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And when the Sabbath was past.
The Sabbath before the resurrection of Christ
There never was such a Sabbath on earth as that described here.
1. To Jesus, our Divine Master, it was a Sabbath of silence. His ministry had closed His public career had ended. Love and hate, and want and weakness, were all outside, and Jesus was in the sepulchre.
2. To the disciples it was a sabbath of grief. The heart had been torn out of their lives. This was the darkest sabbath they had ever known.
3. To the churchmen in their temple worship it was a sabbath of guilt and fear. Sing they might; but there lay that dead Saint in the garden, and they seemed to hear His deep pantings as He travelled under the cross towards Golgotha. Pray they might; but they would seem to hear Jehovah telling them to wash their hands in innocency, and so surround His altar. Then there was something about that garden sepulchre that was frightful to them. They had rolled up a huge stone and sealed it, set a guard, and yet that Teacher seemed to be abroad and walking through the temple, and ever and anon His great eyes would throw out flashes from their awful depths, which made their souls quail in them. And ever and anon their hearts beat as they seemed to hear the accents of His marvellous voice, as if its echoes still hung on cloister beams, and would occasionally descend with its palpitating utterances on their horror-stricken ears. No living man could scare them as that dead Man did. (Dr. Deems.)
I. What was the object of these women in going to the sepulchre? That they might anoint the body of the dead Christ. This was their only thought. They had loved Him. They loved Him still: and with a woman’s fidelity loved Him though He were not merely unfortunate, but false to His word. It was despairing, yet unbelieving love. The Easter morning’s sun has risen in the Church these eighteen hundred years, and there are those who still go to the tomb looking for their Christ. The Church for such is but a sepulchre. Their Christ is a dead Christ. Their Christian love is tearful. The world, the Church, needs enthusiastic believers; and they can never be had except as each can say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Despairing, unbelieving love is always timid and distrustful. It always sees obstacles ahead. It cannot go easily in an open path. Faith removes mountains. Faith in a living Christ makes the way to heaven easy to tread, open to view.
II. The changed errand of these visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They had come to embalm Him. Their spirit, purpose, all are changed. It is not now in sadness to anoint a dead Christ, but in gladness to announce a risen Christ. And the new work of hope is much easier than the old errand of despair. Is there not just this difference between the spirit and work of those who heartily believe and trust a living Christ and those whose faith all centres about a dead Christ? Let us not underrate the value of the death of Christ, it is the foundation of our peace with God. But the foundation is not the whole of the temple of our faith. The cross is no more the sign of suffering, but the symbol of victory and power. It is the royal sceptre in His hands who rules in the kingdom which is righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost. In this spirit of courageous hope we are to go and tell the story of the risen Jesus. (G. M. Boynton.)
The mission of the holy women
Our Lord was already in His grave, but He was not covered with earth; He was not enclosed in a coffin, but merely lay in a recess hollowed out of the rock, where Joseph of Arimathaea had placed Him on the evening of Good Friday. Joseph had probably been forced to do His work hurriedly, in order to get it done before the Sabbath came on. He had been contented with wrapping the body in fair linen, and hastily covering it with some preparation that might preserve the bruised and mangled flesh from the rapid corruption that might naturally be looked for. Mary Magdalene and her companions came to complete what Joseph had begun-to rearrange with more care and attention to detail the position of the body in its last resting place, and while doing this to cover it with such preservatives against decomposition as to ensure its integrity for many years to come. Now, Mary Magdalene and her companions would have expected to encounter at least one difficulty, for they had watched the burial on the evening of Good Friday; they had even noted how the Lord’s body was laid; they would have observed how, under the direction of Joseph of Arimathaea, the doorway which formed the entrance to the tomb had been closed up by a large stone, which, spanning an opening of some four feet in height by three in breadth, could not have been moved by fewer than two or three men. They could not hope to roll away such a stone by themselves, and how were they, at that early hour, to procure the necessary assistance? Their anxiety did not last long. “When they looked,” says St. Mark, “they saw that the stone was rolled away.” It seems to have been rolled into the first or outer chamber of the tomb, where the angel was sitting upon it when he addressed the holy women. (Canon Liddon.)
The Holy Sepulchre-its interest to Christians
No other spot on the surface of this earth can equally rouse Christian interest. Rome and Athens have glories all their own: they say much to the historical imagination; but they say little by comparison to all that is deepest in our nature-little to the conscience, little to the heart. Sinai and Horeb, Lebanon and Hermon, Hebron and Bethel, Shechem and the Valley of the Jordan and the Valley of the Kishon, have high claims on Jews and Christians from their place in the history and books of the chosen people; but dearer still to us Christians are Bethlehem and Nazareth, and Jericho and Bethany, and Tabor and the Hill of the Beatitudes, and Bethsaida and Capernaum, and Gethsemane and Calvary; and yet the interest even of these must pale before that which attracts us to the Tomb of Jesus. When in the Middle Ages the flower of European chivalry, and amongst them our own King Richard, set forth on that succession of enterprises which we know as the Crusades, the special object which roused Europe to this great and prolonged effort was the deliverance not so much of the Holy Land, but the Holy Sepulchre from the rule of the infidel; and when a Christian in our day finds himself in the Holy City, what is it to which his eager steps first and naturally turn? There is much, indeed, on every side to detain him; but one spot there is which gives to the rest the importance which in his eyes they possess, and one spot compared with which the site of the Temple itself is insignificant; he must take the advice of the Angel of the Sepulchre (Matthew 28:6),-he must “come and see the place where the Lord lay.” (Canon Liddon.)
The Holy Sepulchre-its appearance now
Under the larger of the two cupolas of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, there stands what is to all appearance a chapel, twenty-six feet in length by eighteen in breadth. It is cased in stone; around it is a row of slender pilasters and half columns; and at the summit is a crown-like tomb. At the east end of this chapel a low door opens into a small square room, called the Chapel of the Angel, because here the angel sat on the stone that had been rolled inside from the door of the sepulchre. At the western end of this ante-chamber is another much lower door leading into the sepulchre. The sepulchre itself is a vaulted chamber about six feet by seven feet, and the resting place of the holy Body of our Lord is at the right side as you enter, and is now covered with a marble slab which serves as an altar; indeed, the sides and the floor of this sepulchral chamber are cased in marble, which hides the rock beneath. Immediately over the slab there is a bas-relief of the resurrection, while forty-three lamps of gold and silver hang from the roof, and shed a brilliant light in what would be otherwise a perfectly dark vault. No doubt it all wears a different aspect from that which met the eyes of Mary Magdalene. Then there was only a low, rocky ridge, the boundary of a small suburban garden, in the face of which rock the tomb was excavated. Since then all the ridge except that which contains the tomb itself has been cut away in order to form a level floor for the great Church. Mary saw no incrustation of architectural ornament, no marble, no lamps; only a tomb of two chambers, one inside-the other cut out of the face of the rock. Thus it is that, as the ages pass, human hands, like human minds, are wont to surround whatever is most dear and precious with creations of theft own; but, like the native rock inside the marble, the reality remains beneath. If the surroundings are thus utterly changed, the original spot-the original tomb-still remains; and if Christian pilgrims from well-nigh all the nations of the world still seek it year by year, and if prayer and praise is almost incessantly offered around it in rites and tongues the most various and dissimilar, it is because its interest to the Christian heart is beyond that of any other spot on the surface of this globe-it is “the place where the Lord lay.” (Canon Liddon.)
The Holy Sepulchre-authenticity of the site
Can we believe, someone asks, that this is really the place where the Body of the Lord was laid after His death? Why not? Christendom, east and west, has believed it, at least since A.D. 335. In that year the first Christian Emperor Constantine completed the church which the historian Eusebius tells us he made up his mind to build on this spot immediately after the Nicene Council. At its consecration a great many bishops came to Jerusalem, and Eusebius himself among the rest; and no doubt was entertained by them that this was the genuine tomb of our Lord. But then the question arose, How did Constantine and his bishops know that the sepulchre over which he built his church was really the sepulchre of our Lord, and not of someone else? And one answer which is sometimes given to this question, as by Robinson, is, that the place was revealed to Constantine by a miracle, and that as the miracle may at least conceivably have been a pious fraud of some kind, there is no certainty that the presumed site was the true one. Robinson quotes a letter of Constantine to the then Bishop of Jerusalem, in which the Emperor speaks of the gladdening discovery of the Sign of the sacred Passion of the Redeemer as miraculous. But the allusion in this expression is to the real or supposed finding of the wood of the Cross. Constantine says nothing about the finding of the Sepulchre, nor is there any real ground for thinking that it was ever discovered at all, for the simple reason that its position had never been at all lost sight of. The wood of the Cross might well have been buried and forgotten; and if it was ever to be certainly identified, some extraordinary occurrence might be necessary to identify it; but the burial place of Jesus was not likely to have been lost sight of. Constantine was not farther removed in point of time from the date of the earthly life of our Lord, than we are from the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and we know pretty well where most people who attracted any public attention during her reign were buried. The Jews, like the Egyptians, took especial care to preserve memorials of the dead. St. Peter, in his first sermon, alludes to David’s sepulchre as being “with us even to this day.” Would St. Peter, think you, or those whom he taught, have ever lost sight of the sepulchre of “David’s greater Son?” Would not each generation of Christians have learned, and handed on to their successors, all that was known about it? Above all, would not the great Alexandrian school, who diffused so much light and knowledge in the first ages of the Church, have kept its eyes steadily on a matter of some real importance like this? Even in those days a visit from Alexandria to Jerusalem and back might have been easily taken, the weather being favourable, in three weeks; and men like Clement and Origen would have learnt, either from personal observation or through others, all that could be learnt respecting the exact scene of the momentous event which was the keystone of the religion which they taught. Indeed, it was notorious amongst the Christians, that in the days of the Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 132) a temple of Venus had been built on this very spot, and this building, in something less than two centuries was finally removed by Constantine, who uncovered the tomb in the rock beneath. Notwithstanding the ruin which fell upon Constantine’s Church at the time of the Persian invasion, and upon its successor under the mad Caliph El Hakim, there is no reason to think that the site and identity of the tomb were ever lost sight of. There are, of course, other opinions on the subject. The late Mr. Ferguson maintained with great ability what scholars have come to consider a paradox, viz., that the site of the Sepulchre was that of the so-called Mosque of Omar in the Temple area. A more plausible opinion, warmly upheld by the late General Gordon, is, that it is in a garden at the foot of the striking hill which is just outside the Gate of Damascus. This site is so much more picturesque and imposing than the traditional one that, had there been any evidence in its favour in Constantine’s day, it would certainly have been adopted. The old belief is likely to hold its ground unless one thing should happen. We know that our Lord was crucified and buried outside the Gate of Jerusalem. The Epistle to the Hebrews points out the typical importance of His suffering “without the gate.” If excavations ever should show that the second (i.e., in our Lord’s day, the outer)
wall of the city embraced the site of the Sepulchre within its circuit, then it would be certain that the traditional site is not the true one. At present there is not much chance of these necessarily difficult excavations being made; and while no one can speak positively, high authorities believe that the real direction of the second wall is that which Constantine and his advisers took for granted. We may therefore continue to hold with our forefathers that the chapel under the larger cupola of the Church of the Sepulchre does really contain the place where the Lord lay. (Canon Liddon.)
The joy of Easter
The humiliation of Jesus reached its lowest depths when He “gave up the ghost.” Everything after that moment gave symptoms of change in the current of affairs. The very enmity which crucified Him started us heroes in His favour-Nicodemus: Joseph. Even His descent into hell was more a thing of victory than of abasement. Spirits in prison are made sensible of a new achievement in the universe, of which He is the hero. Angels in glory are despatched on new embassies, and mysteriously move about the place where His Body lay. A new era breaks upon the course of time. “He is risen.” Blessed news! Joyous tidings! Solemn wonder! Glorious triumph! Well may we gather flowers for the altar, and tune our voices to exultant songs, and call every instrument of music to our aid, to give utterance to the holy cheer which such an occasion carries with it.
I. Easter is the rolling away of sorrow from distressed and loving hearts. A death day to the tormenting distresses of human care and heart oppressions. Believest thou the tidings? then why afflict thyself any longer with thy bereavements and weaknesses? Lift up your downcast eyes and look, and you will see that the stone is rolled away, and greater comfort at hand than we ever imagined. Easter brings comfort and joy to
(1) the poor,
(2) the suffering,
(3) the bereaved,
(4) the fearful.
Guilt is cancelled, condemnation is past, peace with God is made. Open thy heart to these Easter tidings, and as thou hungerest and thirsteth after righteousness, thou shalt be satisfied. The stone is rolled away.
II. Easter is the setting up of a glorious refuge for assaulted and endangered faith. If we have any doubts about the Divine Sonship of Jesus, or any questions about the truthfulness of Christianity, or any disheartening scepticism about the reality of gospel blessings, it is because we have not done justice to the facts of the Christian Easter. It is the impregnable fortress of our faith. There is nothing in Christianity which does not there find shelter, entrenchment, vindication. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates:
1. That Jesus was the Christ.
2. That there is another life after this.
3. That it is safe to trust in a complete forgiveness in the merits and righteousness of Christ alone. He died as thy substitute; therefore the account must be settled, or he never could have thus triumphantly been made alive again.
4. That He is now ever with and in His Church and Sacraments, there to dispense the blessings of His efficacious presence, to breathe His Spirit on men’s souls, and to make them participants in His new life.
III. Easter is the stationing of loving angels round the grave conducting to converse with the glorified. By nature we have no fellowship with heaven, and no communion with the dwellers there. Our sins have sundered us from that bright and happy world. But Jesus has brought us and angels together again. Easter has put an angel of God in every sepulchre. A higher and a better world there joins upon this life of sorrow and tears. As the friends of Jesus come thither with spices of love in their hands, they come into the communion of the glorified, and begin to have converse with angelic excellence, Heaven borders on the tomb. Another step, and the “loud uplifted angel trumpets” bid us welcome to the mansions of the everlasting home. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. A striking example of constant love. It is usual to regard man as typifying strength and courage, and woman as typifying love and tenderness. But often those who typify love and tenderness prove stronger and more courageous in the sense of clinging constancy than those who claim to have a monopoly of the robuster qualities. It was certainly so here.
II. Love acts promptly. Here love had imposed a task upon itself, and, true to its nature, sought the earliest opportunity for discharging it. These women could not have entered earlier upon this business.
1. Promptness to perform an act of kindness.
2. Loving service rendered in relation to one from whom there was no prospect of a return.
III. Love is oblivious to obstacles. It forms its plans, marks its course, regards ardently its object, but takes no account of the stones, great or small, that may be in its way. Well for the world that love is thus characteristically blind to hindrances; ninety-nine out of every hundred efforts made for its welfare have been the achievements of men who have been gloriously oblivious of the stones. Carey: Livingstone.
IV. Love never retreats. Ever accompanied by faith and hope, it dares to pursue its course whatever the difficulties may appear.
V. God has angels over against the stones that may be in the pathway of love. Men are never so angel-like as when engaged in removing hindrances out of the way of those who seek to serve God. (A. J. Parry.)
Songs in the night
The nightingale is celebrated for its singing in the night. We have, however, seen it maintained that it is all a mistake to suppose that she sings only in the night. She sings in the day as well; only, as other songsters are then in full chorus, her sweeter strains are not particularly distinguishable from the rest. But at night, when all others are hushed, her song is heard, and is more sweet by reason of the contrast with the surrounding stillness. So it was with these women. They served in the day of bright sunshine, but their service was then overshadowed, so to speak, by the demonstrative crowd that thronged around the Saviour. Amidst all the marks of attention paid Him, theirs did not appear particularly distinguishable. But when the voice of the noisy, effusive crowd was hushed during the dark night of trial and suffering which followed the brief day of popularity, they continued to give forth the music of love and sympathy through the dark loneliness of the night. This is love indeed, and the world needs more of it-love that will give forth the music of service in the night, and even at the grave of its hope. (A. J. Parry.)
The little English drummer boy’s apt reply to Napoleon indicates the spirit of love in this respect. The story relates, that when the little drummer was brought prisoner before the Emperor, he was told to sound the retreat. “I never learnt it,” was the prompt answer. Love has never learnt to sound the retreat, or practise it. Love is ever accompanied by faith and hope, and in their company it always dares to pursue its course, however great may appear the odds against it. (A. J. Parry.)
Moral strength in women
It is a curious psychological fact that women, though usually much weaker than men, develop, in the hour of affliction, a wonderful degree of moral strength. They bear up under a weight of adversity which would completely crush a man; but as soon as the painful ordeal is over, then nature seems to resume its sway, and the stoic of a few moments before melts into a flood of tears, and gives herself up to a season of uncontrollable weeping. Just as the stately oak affords an impervious shelter from the pouring tempest; but so soon as the fury of the storm is past, and the sun shines out again from behind the clouds, then the slightest touch brings the great raindrops rattling to the ground. Hence we are not surprised that these three women came with tearless eyes to anoint our Saviour’s body. Their hearts were sore with grief, but theirs was a depth of woe that found no relief in weeping. (J. E. Johnson.)
The stone of death rolled away
“They saw that the stone had been rolled away.” How I love to dwell upon these words; they are so full of comfort to every stricken soul. There is not only a great beauty, but there is a profound significance in them. The mass of men at that time believed that, when a man died, that was the end of him; he was indeed dead-he was annihilated. It was a common custom among the Romans to heap great piles of rough rocks upon the graves of the dead, as though they would bind them down to the only scene of their existence. Men everywhere shrank with terror from the grave, and the thought of death filled them with horror. On Easter eve, nearly nineteen centuries ago, the fear of death rested like an immense rock upon the great heart of humanity, but on Easter morn that weight of fear and dread was rolled away, and a risen Saviour proclaimed to the world the glorious fact of an immortal existence. (A. J. Parry.)
The import of death
The complexion of our religious thought depends upon the view we take of death. This life is but the foreground of that which is to come, and death is the narrow bridge upon which we pass from one state of existence to another; or, rather, it is our initiation into the hidden mysteries of the future. The initiatory ceremony is attended with some pain, it is true; but, as in ancient times, when a king wished to raise a brave man to knighthood, he struck him lightly with a sword, and then pronounced him noble: even so, death is but the soft sword touch by which the Eternal King elevates His faithful servant to the knight-errantry of heaven. There is, in the German, a beautiful fable which represents the angel of slumber wandering over the earth in company with the angel of death. As the evening draws near they approach a village and encamp upon one of its hills, listening to the curfew as it tolls the knell of parting day. At last the sounds cease, profound silence reigns round about, and the dark mantle of night covers the earth. Now the angel of sleep rises from her bed of moss, and, stepping forward to the brink of the height, silently scatters the unseen seeds of slumber. The evening wind noiselessly wafts them out over the habitations of weary men. Sweet sleep settles down upon all the inhabitants of the village, and overcomes them all, from the old man who nods in his chair to the infant resting in its cradle. The sick forget their pain; the afflicted their anguish: even poverty is oblivious of its wants. All eyes are closed. After her task has been performed, the angel of slumber turns to her sister and says: “When the morning sun appears, all these people will praise me as their benefactor and friend. How delightful it is to go about doing good so silently and all unseen! What a beautiful calling we have!” Thus spoke the angel of sleep; but the angel of death gazed upon her in silent sorrow, and a tear, such as the undying shed, stood in her eye. “Alas!” said she, “I cannot rejoice like you in the gratitude of men. The earth calls me its enemy, and the destroyer of its peace.” “O my sister,” replied the angel of slumber, “at the great awakening of the resurrection morning the souls of the blessed will recognize you as their friend and benefactor. Are we not sisters, and the messengers of our common Father?” They ceased to speak, but the eyes of the death angel glistened with tears as they both fled out into the darkness of the night. (A. J. Parry.)
Hope in death
Visitors to the catacombs at Rome never fail to observe the inscriptions over the graves of those early Christians who, escaping from persecution, took refuge in these subterranean abodes. Their friends inscribed over their resting place these blessed words, “Requiescat in pace”-“Rest in peace.” Sometimes they added an anchor, which was a favourite emblem with them-the symbol at once of their tempestuous lot, and of the calm trust with which it was borne. (A. J. Parry.)
Reunion after the resurrection
If you have taken a sail, on a pleasant day, down the harbour of some great city by the sea, you have seen there, perhaps, a noble ship sailing up the bay. All her canvas is set, and shines brightly in the sun. Her crew crowd the rail, and earnestly gaze at the familiar landscape. Here they are at last. They have been round the world, or in search of whale in the Arctic Ocean. At times, during their absence, it seemed as though this hour would never come. In the night when the waves tossed their ship, when the wind whistled through the rigging, and the blocks and cords were covered with ice, they thought of home and loved ones, but long years must elapse before they could return, and hope sunk utterly in their bosom. Now, however, it is all over; the pain is passed; their eyes are rejoiced once more with the sight of their native land, and, as the ship draws near the shore, they eagerly scan the faces on the pier-fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, little ones, and friends have come down to welcome them. The vessel is made fast, a plank is thrown to the land, they step upon it, pass over, and all hearts rejoice in the present gladness. No one thinks of the past; the anguish of parting is forgotten; the long separation fades into a brief moment; all is bliss. My friends, this is but a figure. We are the crew of that vessel, Jesus is the Captain, life is the long voyage upon which we are all embarked, and the landing is that glorious moment when we shall all be united beyond the deep; dark ocean of eternity. And may we not see in those who stand upon the pier, and scan, with eager, earnest gaze, the races on the ship, that throng of friends who await us on the other side? (A. J. Parry.)
Angels in graves
It is very pleasant to note how the ministering angels gather round death and the grave. There is the supporting angel, in what we may truly call the dying agony of Gethsemane. There are the angels who waited to waft the soul set free to that inner heaven, familiar, in Hebrew imagery, as Abraham’s bosom. There is the angel of the resurrection, who takes away the bar, and lets out the prisoners of hope. And still, even in the empty grave, tarrying there as if he loved it, there is an angel-strong, beautiful, and fresh as a young man-pure, and bridal, and modest in his long white robe. And why should I put such a difference between the Head and the members as to think that Jesus’ tomb was so tenanted, and that mine is empty? Why should that have such sweet company, and a Christian’s grave be solitary? Or why should that be shrouded, in our imagination, in darkness and gloom, which is so beautiful and so attractive to those heavenly visitors (James Vaughan, M. A.)
They came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
The sedulity of the devout women
Consider their sedulity-sedulity that admits no intermission, no interruption, no discontinuance, no indifference in religious offices. Consider we therefore their sedulity, if we can. I say, if we can; because if a man should sit down at a beehive or an ant hill, and determine to watch such an ant or such a bee in its work, he would find that bee or that ant so sedulous, so serious, so various, so concurrent with others, so contributory to others, as that he would quickly lose his marks and his sight of that ant or that bee. So, if we fix our consideration upon these devout women, and the sedulity of their devotion, as the several evangelists present it to us, we may easily lose our sight, and hardly know which was which, or at what time she or she came to the sepulchre. “They came, in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” says St. Matthew; “they came very early in the morning, the first day of the week, at the rising of the sun,” says St. Mark; “they prepared their spices, and rested the Sabbath, and came early the next day,” says St. Luke; “they came the first day when it was yet dark,” says St. John. From Friday evening till Sunday morning they were sedulous, busy upon this service; so sedulous, that Athanasius thinks these women came four several times to the sepulchre, and that the four evangelists have relation to their four comings, and Jerome argues that this variety is no sign of untruthfulness in the evangelists, but testifies the sedulity of the women they speak of, going and coming, and unwilling to be far distant or long absent from their devout exercise. Beloved, true devotion is a serious, a sedulous, an impatient thing. He who said, “I fast twice in the week,” was but a Pharisee; he who can reckon his devout actions is no better; he who can tell how often he has thought upon God today, has not thought upon Him often enough. It is St. Augustine’s holy circle, “to pray that we may hear sermons profitably, and to hear sermons that we may learn to pray acceptably.” Devotion is no marginal note, no interlineary gloss, no parenthesis that may be left out; it is no occasional thing, no conditional thing: “I will go if I like the preacher, the place, the company, the weather;” but it is of the body of the text, and lays upon us an obligation of fervour and continuance. (John Donne, D. D.)
Who shall roll us away the stone?
The death unto sin
So said the women who came to see Christ, who had died upon the cross. Are they the last who have had the like fears on a like occasion? Has not every Christian who has set himself in earnest to the work of following Christ in His death been alarmed at an equal difficulty? Are not many frightened at the very outset of their course?
I. The stone at the door. Surely no one who understands anything of the nature of his Christian profession expects to maintain it without trial of his strength; he that seeks Christ crucified and dead for sin, sees that he has first of all to roll away the stone from the sepulchre. This exclamation of the women is continually the cry of our weak nature, of the old man within us who is of little faith, and sees not that the finger of God is stronger than the arm of man. And to our natural weakness the devil adds his wiles to add to our perplexities.
1. To seek Christ as dead for our sins is to resolve to forsake them, and to follow Him to His sepulchre with |he earnest desire and full determination of crucifying some sinful affection and resisting some evil inclination or purpose.
2. When a man begins to attempt this a struggle ensues, and he discovers his own weakness. Every sin, every infirmity; pleads to be heard before it be turned off from his service. Who demands from you such a surrender of your former habits? Are you to live a life of continual struggle? Is watching unto righteousness as pleasant as sleeping in sin? Is swimming against the flood of ungodliness as easy as swimming with it? Is a distant prize, which you may miss, to be preferred to one at hand which is certain? So says the law of sin, and thus, with all his desire to follow Christ unto His death and burial, he is at the same time tempted with a number of hindrances which seem effectually to block up the way, and if he feels the spirit to be willing, he also feels the flesh to be weak. He begins to despair of strength to remove them, and asks in his despondency, “Who shall roll me away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, that I may see and find Christ crucified for me?”
II. The stone rolled away.
1. As the women who uttered these words had no sooner spoken them than they saw that the stone was already rolled away, so it befalls everyone who through the sincere purpose of the death unto sin, seeks Christ crucified. Those hindrances, which his weak unassisted nature never could so much as hope to remove, are rolled away by the arm of the power of God. If he feels the power of the death of his Saviour, he feels also the glorious power of His resurrection; he is enabled by the grace of God to overcome all the hindrances and stones of offence which before seemed so great and difficult of removal.
2. Many there are who would rather forsake a course of carelessness and forgetfulness of God; they see its folly and unreasonableness; they perceive in what it must end; but they have not the resolution to free themselves. They no sooner see the sepulchre of Christ, and the spot where they must become partakers in His death by dying to their besetting sin, than they give up the trial, crying out that the thing is impossible. But this would not be so if they accompanied hearty prayer to the Lord with hearty endeavours at removing the hindrances from the way. Let them begin to practise with the lighter ones, with overcoming, e.g., the habit of frivolous excuses, which is so general an obstacle to a consistent course. When a man has once overcome one ever so frivolous, he is prepared for overcoming one more serious. And when he has overcome it, he is quite astonished and ashamed that he should ever for a moment have yielded to it. He is thenceforward convinced that all the rest are not at all more serious and substantial, and goes to work with them, with the strong hand of a just indignation at having been so be-fooled and periled by them; and thus, under the grace of God, his faith becomes strong enough to remove mountains. (R. W. Evans, M. A.)
Fear exaggerating danger
When the first ironclad vessel was used in naval warfare, the news of its victory sent a panic through the Federal rulers. At a cabinet meeting called on receipt of the news, Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of State, said: “This will change the whole character of the war; she will destroy seriatim every naval vessel; she will lay all the cities on the seaboard under contribution. Port Royal must be abandoned; the governors and authorities must take instant measures to protect their harbours.” Looking out of the window, which commanded a view of the Potomac for many miles, he said, “Not unlikely, we shall have a shell or cannonball from one of her guns in the White House before we leave this room.” Mr. Seward, usually buoyant and self-reliant, was overwhelmed with the intelligence, and listened in responsive sympathy to Stanton; he was greatly depressed, as, indeed, were all the members.
The trouble we expect scarcely ever comes. How much pain the evils cost us that have never happened! (George Moore.)
Difficulties are phantoms
There is a beautiful tradition among the American Indians that Manaton was travelling in the invisible world, and that he came upon a hedge of thorns, and after a while he saw wild beasts glare upon him from the thicket, and after a while he saw an impassable river; but, as he determined to proceed, and did go on, the thorns turned to phantoms; the wild beasts a powerless ghost; the river, only the phantom of a river. And it is the simple fact of our lives that the vast majority of the obstacles in our way disappear when we march upon them. (Dr. Talmage.)
How to deal with difficulties
Dr. Raleigh used to tell of an old Scotch minister who, when he came to a peculiarly difficult passage of Scripture, would say to his people, “No doubt, my brethren, there is great difficulty here; all the commentators are agreed upon that; so let us look the difficulty boldly in the face, and-pass on!”
Help from above
It much perplexed these women how they should roll away the tombstone, and so purchase the sight of their beloved Master; but He that has given His angels charge over His children, that they hurt not their foot against a stone, sent a messenger from heaven to roll back that huge stone for them. Even as a loving father, when he carries his little child to the town, will let him alone to walk in the plain and fair way; but, when he comes to slippery paths, he takes him by the hand, and in dirty passages bears him in his arms, and, when he comes to a stile, gently lifts him over; so God, our heavenly Father, uses His dear children. If they endeavour to go as far as they may in the ways of His commandments, so fast as they can in the way to the celestial Jerusalem, He will assist them in danger, and help them over stiles of discouragement; take away all rubs of offence, remove all blocks and hindrances in their passage; and the very great stone parting Christ and them, even while they least think of it, shall be rolled away. (Dean Boys.)
The opened sepulchre
Beneath Westminster Abbey is an old cloister which for centuries was used as the burial place of the early kings. There, in their stone sarcophagi, are the remains of the Saxon sovereigns, some of them over twelve hundred years entombed. It is related that one day, a few years since, a visitor, who had wandered into this vault, was locked in. He did not notice as the door swung together. The janitors were busy. The usual throng of visitors was in the spacious building. No one heard the muffled voice which began to cry from the cloister, or the muffled blows which began to beat upon its oaken door. The afternoon passed away. What that imprisoned man suffered, as it gradually grew upon him that he was buried alive, who can know? At the usual hour the janitor made his evening rounds, before closing the building for the night. The entombed man heard him as his footsteps came near, then retreated, came near again, then, finally receding, grew fainter and fainter, and died away at length in the distance. What imagination can conceive his agony! He redoubled his cries. He shrieked. He dashed himself wildly against the solid door. In vain. Now he thought he heard the distant entrance doors creak on their hinges, and the key pushed into the great iron lock. In a moment more the vast tomb would be closed for the night. Fortunately, before turning the key, the janitor paused a moment and listened. He thought he heard dull blows, faint and far away, a sound as of stifled, agonizing cries. He listened more intently. A horrible thought suggested itself to his mind: “Someone is locked into the cloister.” He hastened to the place, threw open the heavy oaken door, and held his lantern up to see. The buried man had fallen senseless upon the stone floor. He was rescued just in time to save his reason. Were it not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we men had been like that poor wretch, helplessly and hopelessly beating against the bolted door of a living tomb. Some tell us that Christ came to influence men, to draw us to God, to make an effectual appeal to men by His life and His death to repent and imitate Him. Is this all? we ask. We lay away our friends, and over the coffin and the tomb we say: “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.” If He is not; if He is dead; then we ask in awe-struck dread: “Who shall roll us away the stone?” Christ came to bring life and immortality to light. What hope could we have if He still lay in His grave? What would this earth then be but the eternal grave and charnel house of the human race? (G. R. Leavitt.)
The stone was rolled away.
The door unlocked
Some time since we wished to enter a strange church with a minister, a little before the time for service. We procured a key, but tried in vain to unlock the outside door with it. We concluded we had brought the wrong key, so sent to the janitor for the right one. But he came and told us that the door was already unlocked. All we had to do was to push, and the door would open. We thought ourselves locked out, when there was nothing but that mistaken thought to hinder us from entering. In the same way we fail to enter into love and fellowship with God. The door, we think, is locked against us. We try to fit some key of extraordinary faith to open it. We try to get our minds wrought up to some high pitch of feeling. We say, “I have the wrong key; I must feel more sorry; I must weep more.” And all the time the door is ready to open. If we but come boldly, with humble earnestness, to the throne of grace, we may enter at once, without having to unlock the door. Christ is the door, and His heart is not shut against us. We must enter without stopping to fit our key of studied faith, for His mercy is not locked up. We must enter boldly, trustingly, not doubting His readiness to receive us just as we are. He is willing already, and we must not stop to make Him willing by our prayers or our tears. (Anon.)
Sunshine in a shady place
The place where Jesus lay was a dark spot to His disciples. Little did they know that speedily He was to leave that grave, victor over death, and that heaven’s rare sunshine should come to that shady place. Yet so it was. Other captains may gather laurels from a hundred fields, their very names may be proverbs of conquest; but when they lie in the narrow house appointed for all living, they cease from fight, and no more conquests are in store for them. Not so was it with the Captain of our salvation. His greatest victory was gained in the grave and over it. Every hour of His life yielded the palm to that in which He rose from death.
I. Christ’s rising was to His disciples the resurrection of hope.
1. It proved to them the acceptance of His atonement.
2. It was to them a verification of all His claims.
II. Christ’s rising was to His disciples the resurrection of courage. What changed men they were after Easter Day! The craven deserters were thereafter bold as lions.
III. Christ’s rising was to His disciples the resurrection of religious activity. Till He rose, their activities were paralyzed. When He rose, how they began to preach the gospel of the grace of God; and, more than all besides, they preached not Jesus and the cross, but “Jesus and the resurrection”-the empty sepulchre, rather than the uplifted cross. (George T. Coster.)
1. There are some sepulchres from which we would not desire to roll the stone away. The past has many such sepulchres. In that past there is a sepulchre in which corpses lie-corpses of sinful facts; corpses of broken vows; corpses of old hates; corpses of old loves. Oh! that we could never see them more. Oh! that we could forget their very names.
2. But there is another sepulchre of the past where there do lie some things very sweet, holy, and precious. We long to live these memories over again. We long to walk again, hand in hand, with childlike trust, beside the Galilean lake, or climb the Judean mount with one who lies asleep and has gone into the memory sepulchre. Let us keep our spices ready. When the bitter Sabbath which has followed the sorrowful interment shall have passed, there will be an Easter morn, and as we run sobbing to the sepulchre we shall see the splendours of the face and hear the music of the voice of our risen and immortal Lord. (Dr. Deems.)
Love takes us to Jesus
It is not my work to roll away the stone, but it is my duty to go to the grave. Nay, we will not talk of duty. Love sends me to Jesus, living or dead. My love does that. His love will see that the stone is rolled away. (Dr. Deems.)
Love works for faith
It is said that love is blind. I do not believe it. Love is full of eyes. The sharp-eyed intellect-that Polyphemus of the brain which has only one eye-may miss many a thing. Even cunning, that carries a calcium lamp, may fail to see many a thing. But love will see all. Love is the highest philosophy. Love is the eyes of faith. Love is the hand of faith. Be not faithless, and then you will not be loveless nor blind. (Dr. Deems.)
The power of the resurrection
The facts of our religion are, when rightly appreciated, so many moral forces for the soul, incorporating ideas which give courage and gladness, and containing principles which are at the root of conduct and life. Preeminent among them all is the resurrection. Faith in this is the one and only force that adequately enables us to roll away the stones that encounter us in the struggles of life. What St. Paul calls the “power” of the resurrection is for all of us the mighty secret of a steady triumph over temptation, difficulty, and sorrow.
I. The resurrection is a power to heal conscience. Looking back upon the cross and forward to the ascension, it tells us both of pardon and righteousness.
II. The resurrection is a power to ennoble duty. In its light life is seen to be worth living, for the stone of a purposeless and brief existence is rolled away, and with its new aims, responsibilities, functions, and motives, this life on earth has a new meaning and force. There is its stupendous responsibility, for some day we shall rise to receive the things done in our body, i.e., their results, whether they be good or bad. There is its universal jurisdiction. For the resurrection of the race, like its inevitable mortality, is generically bound up with the resurrection of its Head (1 Corinthians 15:22). There is its potential grace (Colossians 3:1). There is its majestic consecration (Romans 12:1).
III. The resurrection is a power to explain death. It shows us that death is not the end of our journey, only a stage in it. Because Christ lives, we shall live also. We have each of us to go down alone to the brink of the river, and to leave behind us all we have ever known and possessed and loved, and to pass into another condition of which we have no kind of experience, and most probably to abandon schemes but half completed, and lessons but scantily learned. Yet in the world to which we go, there will be leisure enough in the great spaces of eternity to mellow and develop in that land which needeth not sun or moon to lighten it, the gems of thought and action which we sowed here.
IV. The resurrection is a power to console sorrow. (Bishop Thorold.)
Scipio Africanus besieged a city in Spain well fortified every way, and wanting nothing, and no hope did appear to take it. In the meantime Scipio heard many causes pleaded before him, and put off one before it was ended, to be heard three days after; and, being asked by his officers where he would keep his next court, he pointed to the chief citadel of the besieged city, and told them he would hear the cause there. In that space he became master of the town, and did as he had appointed. He was not more confident to enter into a city fortified against him, by his valour, than these women were to enter by faith into a sepulchre sealed and shut up, but the Lord is present with courageous attempts, and He sent His angel to assist them. (Bishop Hacker.)
The rolled stone
The angel was present on this occasion for-
1. A witness. The empty sepulchre confirmed his words.
2. A preparation. They were soon to see the Lord in His glorious resurrection-body.
3. A pledge. Peace established between heaven and earth. A new and sweet communion opened.
4. A help. They could not have moved the stone without assistance. God always aids those who seek to go onwards in the path of duty. An angel is ever by holy places-thoughts-words-works, leading us upwards to higher gifts. (M. Faber.)
The question of the bereaved heart answered
I. Why was there ever a sepulchre on earth? A sepulchre tells of sorrow, sickness, bereavement, death. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.”
II. Why was there a sepulchre for Jesus? To remove all doubt as to the reality of His death.
III. Why was that stone put there? St. Matthew gives the reason. The very means by which they hoped to prevent the resurrection, were made the occasion of more glorious triumph. Thus did God cause the wrath of man to praise Him, and the plottings of enemies to give the strongest proofs of His resurrection.
IV. Who rolled that stone away and for what purpose? Had the Lord rolled it away it would have been said that He was not dead, but only in a state of trance. We must not weep as if we had no one to roll away the stone from the sepulchre. The grave will hold our bodies but a little while. (Bishop Stevens.)
We may note some important lessons which this incident teaches.
1. That gloomy forebodings should never prevent us from doing our duty.
2. That those who talk of difficulties, have frequently but little knowledge of the actual state of affairs.
3. That difficulties, as difficulties, are sometimes more imaginary than real.
I. The fears of an awakened sinner. These are represented in the earnest inquiry of the woman. Whence these fears?
1. They may be due to want of thorough knowledge of God’s character.
2. That men who are exceedingly anxious in reference to any matter are prone to dwell upon the dark side.
Let us look at the different forms which these fears assume.
1. The awaked sinner sometimes doubts the readiness of God to receive him.
2. Fears that he can never lead a godly life.
3. Fears that he will never be ready for heaven.
II. That these fears are groundless. This is represented in the fact recorded here. Note-
1. That difficulties are oftentimes advantages.
2. Difficulties generally dwindle away as we grapple with them.
3. God has abundantly provided against every difficulty. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)
Prospective difficulties in the path of duty, persons often find removed when they come to the place of meeting them. This may be inferred-
I. From the experience of God’s people. Instance Abraham, Moses, the Israelites in the time of Joshua and Esther, the three Hebrews, Daniel, etc., the apostles and primitive Christians, etc.
II. From the promises of God.
1. The promises of God should not inspire us with a false confidence, blind us to the consequences of our conduct, or render us remiss in endeavours to know the will of God. We may be presumptuous in our reliance on the government and promises of God.
2. God has, in the Scriptures, given assurance of a special providence over those who obey His commands.
3. Professors of religion have suffered much in peace of mind, and in efficiency of Christian character, because, by apparent difficulties in prospect, they have been deterred from going forward in duty, when, had they trusted in God and gone forward, they would not have experienced the difficulties anticipated.
4. Where God directs, there go. What God commands, that do. (G. A. Calhoun.)
I. Look more carefully and minutely at the narrative. Costly were the spices brought by Nicodemus, costlier than they could buy; but the first anointing was hurried, the time before Jewish Sabbath so brief. With women’s eyes they saw defects, deplored haste. They would anoint carefully. Love prompted resolution; love is often oblivious of hindrances. They had not thought of the stone which the combined strength of many had rolled into its place.
II. The narrative speaks to us on this Easter Day of-
1. A work of love.
(1) Love prompted the purchase of spices; the preparation, the early journey to tomb. Love compelled them with sweet compulsion.
(2) Love to Christ has led to greater sacrifices, more toilsome work; e.g., love led St. Paul to give up all things; St. Peter to go to prison and unto death. Motive power of all true work for Christ, love.
2. The cause of that love.
(1) Mary Magdalene loved Christ as her Deliverer, Emancipator. Mary the mother of James, and Salome the mother of James and John, loved Him because of what He had been to their sons as well as to themselves.
(2) We love Him because He first loved us.
3. The hindrances which seem to be in the way of performing the work of love Many great stones in our way.
(1) Our ignorance, incompetency, insufficiency.
(2) The world’s sin, indifference, distrust, sorrow.
(3) The formality of the Church lack of unity and love.
(4) Other hindrances of which we may be as ignorant as women were of seal and guard. “Who is sufficient for these things?” Who shall roll these stones away?
4. These hindrances are more than removed if we go on in spite of them. The stone was rolled away, and the Lord was risen. A living present Saviour our strength and joy. (J. M. Blackie, LL. B.)
Symbol of the resurrection
A monument erected to the memory of a Spanish lady was of peculiar and happy design. It represented a full-sized marble coffin, with the lid burst open, revealing the place where the body had lain. A Bible and a cross lay in the vacant place upon the grave clothes, and on the inside of the half-raised lid these words were graven: “Non est hic, sed resurrexit.” (Burritt.)
They saw a young man sitting on the right side.
Very remarkable that this super-human being should be described as a “young man.” Immortal youth, with buoyant energy and fresh power, belongs to angelic beings, and to the children of the resurrection, who are to be “equal unto the angels.” No waste decays their strength, no change robs them of forces which have ceased to increase. Age cannot wither them.
I. The life of the faithful dead is eternal progress towards infinite perfection. Their being never reaches its climax; it is ever but entering on its glory. Their goal is the likeness of God in Christ-all His wisdom, His love, His holiness. He is all theirs, and all that He is is to be transfused into their growing greatness. They rise like the song bird, aspiring to the heavens, circling round, and ever higher, up and up through the steadfast blue to the sun! They shall lose the marks of age as they grow in eternity, and they who have stood before the throne the longest shall be likest him who sat in the sepulchre young with immortal strength, radiant with unwithering beauty.
II. The life of the faithful dead recovers and retains the best characteristics of youth.
1. Hope. No more disappointments; a boundless future of blessedness.
2. Keenness of relish. The pleasures of heaven always satisfy, but never cloy.
3. Fervour of love. Zeal such as that of the seraphs, that have burned before the throne unconsumed and undecaying for unknown ages.
4. Buoyant energy. All that maturity and old age took away, is given back in nobler form. All the limitation and weakness which they brought, the coldness, monotony, torpor, weariness, will drop away; but we shall keep all the precious gifts they brought-calm wisdom, ripened knowledge, full-summed experience, powers of service acquired in life’s long apprenticeship. The perfect man in the heavens will include the graces of childhood, the energies of youth, the steadfastness of manhood, the calmness of old age; as on some tropical trees you may see at once bud, blossom, fruit-the expectancy of spring, the maturing promise of summer, and the fulfilled fruition of autumn-hanging together on the unexhausted bough.
III. The faithful dead shall live in a body that cannot grow old. No weariness. Needing no repose. No death (1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; Revelation 7:13-17). (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Youth in heaven
If all this be true, that glorious and undecaying body shall then be the equal and fit instrument of the perfected spirit, not, as it is now, the adequate instrument only of the natural life. The deepest emotions then will be capable of expression-nor, as now, like some rushing tide, choke the floodgates through whose narrow aperture they try to press, and be all tossed into foam in the attempt, All outward things shall then be fully and clearly communicated to the spirit; that glorious body will be a perfect instrument of knowledge. All that we desire to do we shall then do, nor be longer tortured with tremulous hands that can never draw the perfect circle we plan, and stammering lips that will not obey the heart, and throbbing brain that will ache when we would have it clear. The young spirit shall have for true yokefellow a body that cannot tire, nor grow old, nor die. The aged saints of God shall rise then in youthful beauty, More than the long-vanished comeliness shall then rest on faces that were here haggard with anxiety, and pinched with penury and years. No more palsied hands, no more scattered grey hairs, no more dim and horny eyes, no more stiffened muscles and slow-throbbing hearts. “It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” It is sown in decaying old age; it is raised in immortal youth. His servants shall stand in that day among “the young-eyed cherubim,” and be like them forever. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The presence of the angel
Here is one keeper more than the Jews looked for about our Saviour’s sepulchre, on more than Pilate appointed. One mighty prince of that supernal host, whose countenance was able to daunt a legion of the best Roman soldiers; perhaps there was a multitude with him to celebrate the resurrection, as there was a multitude that appeared in the fields of Bethlehem to rejoice at Christ’s Nativity. But this angel, I may say determinately, was one of the most royal spirits that stand before the face of God forever. How sweetly the eternal wisdom did dispose to let an angel show himself openly at this place of the grave, and upon the celebration of this great day!
1. Those ministering spirits had been attendants upon all the parts of our Saviour’s humility; good reason they should be occupied upon all occasions of His exaltation and glory.
2. The women came out with confidence to embalm Christ’s body, without considering how many difficulties were in their way; such difficulties as could never have been mastered if the angel had not been sent to facilitate all things for them.
3. The presence of the angel showed that He who had been buried there was God as well as man; for angels were as officious at the sepulchre as they use to be in heaven, which is the throne of God.
4. If not an angel, who else would be believed in so great a matter as this? Tell me, who could give testimony beside that would be credited? The disciples were never so tardy to conceive, never so unapprehensive in anything else as in this! They knew not as yet what the rising from the dead did mean.
5. It is in effect a promise that we shall be exalted after death to the society of angels.
6. Angels desire to be present at everything wherein mankind is benefited, that they may rejoice with us. No envy, no malignity in them, that we shall be made perfect in both parts of nature, both in body and soul, and so in that respect exceed them who are only spiritual substances. (Bishop Hacker.)
He is risen; He is not here.
The words of an angel
Here we have the first gospel sermon preached after the gospel had been finished on the cross, and sealed by the fact of the resurrection. Not a sentence that dropped from the speaker’s lips by accident; nor are its words mere words that came uppermost, as though some other words might have done as well. They hold the germ of which the preaching of all true evangelists is but the expansion.
I. The first title under which Christ was proclaimed by a messenger from heaven after his crucifixion.
1. Jesus. The name given at the annunciation. Now it is fulfilled. He has saved His people from their sins. Henceforth this name shall be above every name. All through our life in time let us sing with Bernard, “This name is sweetness in the mouth, music in the ear, joy in the heart;” and all through our life in eternity let us expect to penetrate deeper and deeper into the soul of its beauty, and glory, and meaning.
2. Jesus of Nazareth. A lowly title, despised by men.
3. Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified. Words used among men to express contempt, an angel is proud to use; and the last phrase of degradation which His enemies flung at Him on earth was the first title under which He is proclaimed by a flaming prophet from heaven.
II. The first notice of Christ’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is-
1. A mystery.
2. A miracle.
3. A victory over death.
4. A fulfilment of His promise. (G. Stanford, D. D.)
The angel’s words
I. This message brings to us the glad tidings that he who once died for us now lives for us. For the salve of convenience in the presentation of thought, we may be permitted to speak of Christ’s death as having two aspects in its saving efficacy-a heavenward and an earthward aspect,-and we assert that its power in both directions depends upon the truth that He is risen.
1. The heavenward aspect. Our benefit, in this direction, from the death of Christ, depends on our trust in Him, and not on our ability to explain precisely what His death has done. We know, at any rate, that it has done all that was necessary, and that not only has He died, but also risen again. His resurrection, sanctioned by the seal of law and all the pomp of heaven, gave to His redeeming act the most public and solemn satisfaction.
2. The earthward aspect. He who is our Saviour must be our Saviour every day, and our Saviour in every place; our Saviour from Satan, from the world, and from ourselves. Not only must we, by the heavenward efficacy of His death, have the forgiveness of sins; but, by its earthward efficacy have Him with us as a living presence, ever at work by “the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Some time ago the agents of Anti-Christianity placed posters about London, on doors, on walls, and on wooden fences, advertising the question, “Will faith in a dead man save you?” If, as thus insinuated, the Christian faith is like this, then Christianity is a shock to common sense. Dead Hampden will not take a hand against tyranny; dead Milton will not sing; dead Wellington will not fight; dead Wilberforce will not work for the emancipation of slaves in the Soudan; a dead lawyer will not save you from legal complications; a dead doctor will not save you from the grasp of fever; and just as fantastic, and just as insane, is the conception of salvation by faith in a dead Saviour-a Saviour who is behind eighteen centuries, a Saviour who was crucified but of whom we have been told nothing more. Without the resurrection all the gospel would collapse, as an arch would collapse without the keystone.
II. The grave is the only place where the true seekers of Jesus may not find him.
1. “He is not here”: this will not apply to heaven.
2. “He is not here”: this will not apply to any earthly solitude.
3. “He is not here”: this will not apply to the walks of human life. A Christian may say of his place of business, “Here I pass most of my life; this is my soul’s battlefield; and will Christ leave me to fight my battles alone?” Never! “Here, in my commercial life,” one may say, “Christ is with me, quickening my conscience, and holding my soul in life, while I seem to be only dealing with questions of material, colour, and shape; or with distinctions of weight and currency; or with tables of value, or calculations of outlay, or rates of exchange.” It is an axiom of sanctified reason and a sovereign article of faith, that Christ most is-where Christ is most wanted; and that wherever I am, if I want Him, and seek Him, He is near to my heart as the sun is to that which it shines upon.
4. “He is not here”: this will not apply to the worshipping assembly.
5. “He is not here”: this will not apply to the place where the prodigal stands in his rags and tries to pray, but is speechless; it will not apply to the place where the backslider bemoans himself; it will not apply to the spot where some interceding soul, whose concern for some other soul has risen to the point of intolerable, bursts into the prayer, “Lord help me!”
6. “He is not here”: Christ is not in the grave. To think of Christ as among the dead would be to give up faith in Christ. Christ is the life; He cannot, therefore, be among the dead; He must, therefore, be everywhere except in the grave.
III. The seekers of Jesus have nothing to fear, even from that which may look most alarming. When we are overpowered with a sense of the awful other world, let us remember that angels and ministers of grace are all our friends. We and they are under the same Lord, at home in the same heaven, choristers in the same service.
IV. All who know the glad tidings are bound to tell them to others. (G. Stanford, D. D.)
The women at the sepulchre
Very signal and very beautiful was the devotedness of these women. They put to shame the stronger sex.
1. Their faith, it is true, was weak. They cherished no hope of finding Christ alive. They had forgotten His own express prediction.
2. Yet, if there be no faith to admire, there is great love to commend.
3. And then, what zeal was in their love. They well knew how carefully the grave had been closed; but they did not turn back at the prospect of a difficulty which they might justly have reasoned was too much for their strength. Theirs was the love which seems to itself able to break through rocks, though hope might have been perplexed had it been called upon for a reason.
4. And love had its reward. They came with the pious intent of anointing the dead, and themselves were anointed with the most fragrant tidings that ever fell on mortal ear.
I. The information given to the women.
1. Their fears are quieted. “Be not affrighted.” They had no need to be terrified at the glories of an angel, who had not been alarmed at the indignities heaped upon their Lord. They who could come seeking the crucified Nazarene in the grave were not unworthy to hold converse with celestial beings themselves.
2. But the women needed more than the quieting of those fears which the apparition of the angel had naturally excited. They wanted information as to the disappearance of Christ’s body, and this was quickly furnished. There is something remarkable in the reasoning of the angel. He calls upon the women to behold the place where their Lord’s body had lain, as though its mere desertion were evidence enough of the fact of a resurrection. And so, in real truth, it was; to all, at least, who like the women, knew and considered the characters and circumstances of the disciples of Christ. The body was gone. Either, therefore, it had been raised from the dead, or it had been removed for the purpose of deception. If removed, it could only be by some of his immediate followers and adherents. But could they have stolen the body? The supposition is absurd. In believing that Christ was raised from the dead, I believe a miracle for which there was adequate power; but in believing that Christ’s disciples stole away His body, I believe a miracle for which there was no power at all. Hence the simple fact, ascertainable by the senses, that Christ’s body had disappeared, was, and should be still, sufficient evidence of the resurrection.
3. It may not, however, have been only as proving the fact of a resurrection, that the angel directed attention to the deserted grave; but yet further, because there would be high topics of meditation and comfort suggested by the fact that it had been hallowed by the body of the Lord. Pause awhile, that you may gaze on the consecrated spot, and gather in the wonders with which it is haunted. So interwoven is the fact of Christ’s resurrection with the whole scheme of redemption-so dependent is the entire gospel, whether for its truth or its worth, upon its not being possible He should be holden of death,-that if we could but fix attention on that empty grave, we should give hope to the desponding, constancy to the wavering, warning to the careless, comfort to the sorrowing, courage to the dying. Oh, linger awhile at the tomb in holy meditation. Solemn thoughts may steal over you, and brilliant visions may pass before you. That empty vault is full of sublime, and stirring, and glorious things-things which escape the mere passer-by, but present themselves to the patient inspector.
II. The commission with which the women were entrusted.
1. The glad tidings were not for them alone; and the angel directs them to hasten at once to give intelligence of the glorious fact. Were not these women highly honoured? Were they not well recompensed for their zeal and love? They became apostles to the apostles themselves; they first preached the resurrection to those who were to preach it to the farthest ends of the earth. As the first news of death came by woman, by woman came the first news of resurrection.
2. What a breaking forth of long-suffering and forgiving love is there in the fact, that the tidings were first sent to the disciples of the Lord. It seems to have been the first object of the risen Redeemer to quiet the apprehensions of His followers to assure them that so far from feeling sternly towards them on account of their desertion, He had returned to life for their comfort and welfare. Christ did not think little of having been deserted; but He knew how His disciples sorrowed for their fault; that they loved Him sincerely, notwithstanding their having been overcome by fear; and He gave a proof of His readiness to forgive and welcome the backslider, whensoever there is compunction of heart, in sending the first tidings of His resurrection to the men who had all forsaken Him and fled.
3. And this were but little. The disciples as a body had indeed played the coward; yet they had rather avoided standing forth in His defence, than shrunk from Him in open apostacy. One only had done that-denied his Lord-denied Him thrice, with all that was vehement and blasphemous in expression. Alas for Peter! But oh! the gracious consideration of Christi for indeed it is His voice which must be recognized in the voice of the angel: “Go your way; tell His disciples and Peter.” Those two words-“and Peter”-thrown into the commission are, I might almost say, a gospel in themselves. To all repentant backsliders, Easter brings glad tidings of great joy.
III. The promise.
1. There was an appropriateness in the selection of Galilee for this meeting of our Lord with His apostles, forasmuch as he was likely to be known to numbers there, He having been brought up in Nazareth, a city of Galilee, having wrought His first miracle in Cana of Galilee, and having laboured most abundantly in Capernaum and the neighbouring coast.
2. Moreover, as Galilee was called “Galilee of the Gentiles,” from its proximity to the territories of the heathen, this fixing the place of meeting on the confines of Judea might be intended to mark that all men had an interest in the fact of the resurrection, or that the blessings of the new dispensation were not to be restricted as had been those of the old.
3. And if it were only to the then living disciples that the promise pertained, of meeting their risen Lord in Galilee, assuredly some place there is of which it may be said to the Church in every age-“There shall ye see Him.” “He goeth before you” is, and always will be, the message to the Church. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The holy women’s Easter and ours
Ah! my brethren, let us see whether, in our annual pilgrimage to the grave of our Lord, we have anything of the love which shows so conspicuously in these zealous women. It is so easy for us to keep Easter with high pomp and gratulation, coming to a tomb which we know to be empty, because death has been vanquished in his own domain, that we may readily overlook the strength of that affection which glowed fervently towards Christ whilst supposed to be dead-dead, too, with every circumstance of indignity and shame. When now the Church marshals her children in solemn precession, and leads them up to the place where the Lord was laid, there is a thorough consciousness that mourning is about to be turned into joy, and all remembrance of Christ’s having died as a malefactor, is perhaps lost in the feeling of His having come forth as the resurrection and the life. What would it be, if as yet we only knew Him as “Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified,” and not as the Son of God who stripped the grave of all victory? Is it not too much the fact that (if such expressions may be used) we tolerate the humiliation of Christ, in consideration of His subsequent triumph, just as we can overlook the circumstance of a man’s having been born a beggar, when we know him to have become a prince? We put up with, though we dislike, the cross, because we know that it conducted to a throne. And yet what ought so to endear to us the Redeemer, as the shame and the sorrow which He endured on our behalf? When ought He to seem so precious in our eyes as when, “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He “gives His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that pluck off the hair?” Oh! that heart has scarcely yet been touched with celestial fire, which is forced to turn from Christ in His humility to Christ in His glory, ere it can be kindled into admiration and devotedness. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The place where they laid the Lord
I. Consider the manner in which He was committed there.
1. He was committed there by persons of remarkably interesting character. Joseph of Arimathea: Nicodemus.
2. He was committed there with many tokens of regard and affection.
3. He was committed there with unostentatious quietness and privacy.
II. Consider the ends which, by his committal to it, were accomplished there.
1. His committal to that place confirmed the reality of His death.
2. His committal to that place fulfilled the declarations of ancient prophecies and types.
3. His committal there completed the abasement of His humiliation.
4. His committal has delightfully softened and mitigated the terrors of the grave for His people.
5. By His committal there He immediately and necessarily introduced His own mediatorial exaltation and empire. This was the last step towards His exaltation; it provided for and secured it.
III. Learn the lessons which are inculcated there.
1. The tenderness and devotedness of His love.
2. The duty of unreserved devotedness to His will.
3. The abounding consolations we possess, in reflecting on the departure of our Christian friends, and in anticipating our own. (James Parsons.)
The risen Christ
Eight hundred years after Edward I was buried, they brought up his body and they found that he still lay with a crown on his head. More than eighteen hundred years have passed, and I look into the grave of my dead King, and I see not only a crown, but “on his head are many crowns.” And what is more, He is rising. Yea, He has risen! Ye who came to the grave weeping, go away rejoicing. Let your dirges now change to anthems. He lives! Take off the blackness from the gates of the morning. He lives! Let earth and heaven keep jubilee. He lives! I know that my Redeemer lives. For whom that battle and that victory? For whom? not you. (Dr. Talmage.)
The lessons of the empty grave
I. It is full of consolations.
1. It proclaims that life reigneth. The sorrow of earth is the seeming supremacy of death. The world’s creed is a belief in death as the Lord God Almighty, the terror and destroyer of all things. But the empty grave of Christ teaches us that not death, but life, reigns.
2. It shows that love reigns. Death seems to suggest indifference on God’s part to human woe. The resurrection tells a very different tale.
3. It restores hope to man. What Christ wins for Himself He wins for all.
4. It tells of redemption being perfected. It is accepted by God; or the great “Prisoner of Hope” would not have been discharged. And, accepted, Christ rises to reign, from a higher vantage ground and with new sovereignty. We have a Saviour now on the throne of all things.
II. Lessons on life and duty.
1. Self-sacrifice is the secret of goodness, success, and joy. The way of the cross always leads to some heaven. No love is ever lost, nor any sacrifice ever fruitless.
2. Nothing can by any means harm the good. By doing wrong we inflict the only thing worth calling injury upon ourselves. (R. Glover.)
The empty tomb
He lies there no longer. He was not lying there when the angel addressed Mary Magdalene. With most tombs the interest consists in the fact that all that is mortal of the saint, or hero, or near relative, rests beneath the stone or the sod on which we gaze. Of our Lord’s sepulchre the ruling interest is that He no longer tenants it. It is not as the place in which He lies, it is not even chiefly as the place wherein He lay, it is as the place from which He rose-that the tomb of Jesus speaks to faith. (Canon Liddon.)
Importance of the resurrection to the Christian
Let us suppose-it is a terrible thing for a Christian even to suppose-but let us suppose that our Lord Jesus Christ had keen betrayed, tried, condemned to death, and crucified; that He had died on the cross, and had been buffed; and that, instead of rising the third day, He had lain on in His grave day after day, week after week, year after year, until corruption and the worm had done their work, and nothing was left of His bodily frame save perhaps a skull and a few bones and a little dust. Let us suppose that that was proved to have happened to Him which will happen to you and me, which does happen as a matter of course to the sons of men, to the wealthy and to the poor, to the wise and the thoughtless, to the young and the old,-that which certainly happened to all the other founders of religion and martyrs, to Socrates and Confucius and Mohammed and Marcus Aurelius; what would be the result on the claims and works of the Christian religion? If anything is certain about the teaching of our Lord, it is certain that He foretold His resurrection, and that He pointed to it as being a coming proof of His being what He claimed to be. If He had not risen, His authority would have been fatally discredited; He would have stood forth in human history-may He forgive me for saying it-as a bombastic pretender to supernatural sanctions which He could not command. If He had not risen, what would have been the meaning of His death? Even if it still retained the character of a martyrdom, it would have been only a martyrdom. It could not have been supposed to have any effect in the invisible world: to be in any sense a propitiation for human sin. The atoning virtue which, as we Christians believe, attaches to it, depends on the fact that He who died was more than man, and that He was more than man was made clear to the world by His resurrection. As St. Paul tells the Romans, He was powerfully declared to be the Son of God in respect of His holy and Divine nature by His resurrection from the dead. If He had rotted in His grave, what must we have thought of His character as a religious teacher? He said a great deal about Himself which is inconsistent with truthfulness and modesty in a mere man. He told us men to love Him, to trust Him, to believe in Him, to believe that He was the way, the truth, and the life, to believe that He was in God the Father, and the Father in Him, to believe that one day He would be seen sitting on the right hand of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. What should we think of language of this kind in the mouth of the very best man whom we have ever known? What should we think of it in our Lord Himself, if He was, after all, not merely, as He was, one of ourselves, but also, nothing more? He proved that He had a right to use this language when, after dying on the cross, at His own appointed time He rose from the dead. But it is His resurrection which enables us to think that He could speak thus without being intolerably conceited or profane. Faith in the resurrection is the very keystone of the arch of Christian faith, and, when it is removed, all must inevitably crumble into ruin. The idea that the spiritual teaching, that the lofty moral character of our Lord, will survive faith in His resurrection, is one of those phantoms to which men cling when they are themselves, consciously or unconsciously, losing faith, and have not yet thought out the consequences of the loss. St. Paul knew what he was doing, when he made Christianity answer with its life for the truth of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14). (Canon Liddon.)
Christ’s resurrection the Christian’s hope
Christ is risen. O how do those words change the whole aspect of human life! The sunlight that gleams forth after the world has been drenched, and dashed, and terrified with the black thunder drops, reawakening the song of birds and reilluminating the bloom of the folded flowers, does not more gloriously transfigure the landscape than these words transfigure the life of man. Nothing short of this could be our pledge and proof that we also shall arise. We are not left to dim intimations of it from the reminiscences of childhood; vague hopes of it in exalted moments; splendid guesses of it in ancient pages; faint analogies of it from the dawn of day, and the renovation of spring, and the quickened grain, and the butterfly shaking itself free of the enclosing chrysalis to wave its wings in the glories of summer light: all this might create a longing, the sense of some far-off possibility in a few chosen souls, but not for all the weary and suffering sons of humanity a permanent and ennobling conviction, a sure and certain hope. But Christ is risen, and we have it now; a thought to comfort us in the gloom of adversity, a belief to raise us into the high privilege of sons of God. They that are fallen asleep in Christ are not perished. Look into the Saviour’s empty and angel-haunted tomb; He hath burst for us the bonds of the prison house; He hath shattered at a touch the iron bars and brazen gates; He hath rifled the house of the spoiler, and torn away the serpent’s sting; “He is risen; He is not here.” They that sleep in all those narrow graves shall wake again, shall rise again. In innumerable myriads from the earth, and from the river, and from the rolling waves of the mighty sea, shall they start up at the sounding of that angel trumpet; from peaceful churchyards, from bloody battlefields, from the catacomb and from the pyramid, from the marble monument and the mountain cave, great and small, saint and prophet and apostle, and thronging multitudes of unknown martyrs and unrewarded heroes, in every age and every climate, on whose forehead was the Lamb’s seal-they shall come forth from the power of death and hell. This is the Christian’s hope, and thus we not only triumph over the enemy, but profit by him, wringing out of his curse a blessing, out of his prison a coronation and a home. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Christ is the resurrection; therefore its source and spring, its author and finisher, in a sense in which no other can be. When He emerged from the tomb on the morning of the world’s great Sabbath, He brought life and immortality with Him, by which the pearls of the deep sea, before awaiting the plunge of the diver, the treasures, before lying in the dark mine, were by Him seized and brought up to the light of day. Life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel, and with this knowledge in our minds, we seem to stand by the Saviour’s broken sepulchre, just as a man stands upon the shelving brink of the precipice from which some friendly hand has snatched him, shuddering as he thinks of the awful death that he has only just escaped. Look, and see the place where the Lord lay, and tremble-but rejoice with trembling. Is the stone there yet? If it is, if the stone is not yet rolled away, if the grave clothes and spices yet shroud and embalm the corpse, then let the darkness come and blot out the sun, and bid a long, long good-night to all the world’s hopes of life, for existence is a feverish dream, and death shall be its ghastly but its welcome end. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
The triumph of good
As a noble sonata, whose melodies are broken with pathetic minors and clanging discords, ends in a burst of triumphant harmony, so the story of the life of Jesus, beset with sins and piteous with sorrows, is crowned at last with the glory of His exaltation. (C. M. Southgate.)
The absent corpse
When we wander through a graveyard and look at the tombstones, or go into the church and examine the old monuments, we see one heading to them all: “Hic jacet,” or “Here lies.” Then follows the name, with date of death, and perhaps some praise of the good qualities of the departed. But how totally different is the epitaph on the tomb of Jesus! It is not written in gold, nor cut in stone; it is spoken by the mouth of an angel, and it is the exact reverse of what is put on all other tombs: “He is not here!” (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
The resurrection guarantees success to Christianity
During the years that followed the outbreak of the French revolution, and the revolt against Christianity which accompanied it, there was an extraordinary activity in some sections of French society directed to projecting a religion that might, it was hoped, take the place of Christianity. New philanthropic enthusiasms, new speculative enthusiasms, were quite the order of the day. On one occasion a projector of one of these schemes came to Talleyrand, who, you will remember, was a bishop who had turned sceptic, and so had devoted himself to polities; but whatever is to be said of him, he was possessed in a very remarkable degree of a keen perception of the proportion of things, and of what is and is not possible in this human world. Well, his visitor observed, by way of complaint to Talleyrand, how hard it was to start a new religion, even though its tenets and its efforts were obviously directed to promoting the social and personal improvement of mankind. “Surely,” said Talleyrand, with a fine smile, “surely it cannot be so difficult as you think.” “How so?” said his friend. “Why,” he replied, “the matter is simple; you have only to get yourself crucified, or anyhow put to death, and then, at your own time to rise from the dead, and you will have no difficulty.” (Canon Liddon.)
Tell His disciples and Peter.
Love’s triumph over sin
Matthew, who also reports the angel’s words, has only “tell His disciples.” Mark (the “interpreter” of Peter) adds words which must have come like wine and oil to the bruised heart of the denier, “and Peter.” To the others, it was of less importance that his name should have been named then; to him it was life from the dead that he should have been singled out to receive a word of forgiveness and a summons to meet his Lord; as if He had said through His angel messenger, “I would see them all, but whoever may stay behind, let not him be wanting to our glad meeting again.”
I. Notice the loving message with which He beckons the wanderer back.
1. A revelation of love stronger than death.
2. A revelation of a love that is not turned away by our sinful changes. Whilst we forget Him, He remembers us. We cannot get away from the sweep of His love, wander we ever so far.
3. A love which sends a special message because of special sin. The depth of our need determines the strength of the restorative power put forth. The more we have sinned, the less can we believe in Christ’s love; and so, the more we have sinned, the more marvellous and convincing does He make the testimony and operations of His love to us.
4. A love which singles out a sinful man by name. Christ deals with us not in the mass but soul by soul. He has a clear individualizing knowledge of each. He loves every single soul with a distinct love. He calls to thee by thy name-as truly as He singled out Peter here, as truly as when His voice from heaven said, “Saul, Saul.” To thee forgiveness, help, purity, life eternal are offered.
II. The secret meeting between Christ and Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). This is the second stage in the victorious conflict of Divine love with human sin. What tender consideration there is in meeting Peter alone, before seeing him in the company of others! How painful would have been the rush of the first emotions of shame awakened by Christ’s presence, if their course had been checked by any eye but His own beholding them! The act of faith is the meeting of the soul with Christ alone. Do you know anything of that personal communion? Have you, your own very self, by your own penitence for your own sin, and your own thankful faith in the love which thereby becomes truly yours, isolated yourself from all companionship, and joined yourself to Christ? Then, through that narrow passage where we can only walk singly, you will come into a large place. The act of faith which separates us from all men, unites us for the first time in real brotherhood, Hebrews 12:22-24.
III. The gradual cure of the pardoned apostle (John 21:15-19). “Lovest thou Me?” includes everything. Hast thou learned the lesson of My mercy? Hast thou responded to My love? Then thou art fit for My work, and beginning to be perfected. So the third stage in the triumph of Christ’s love over man’s sin is when we, beholding that love flowing towards us, and accepting it by faith, respond to it with our own, and are able to say, “Thou knowest that I love Thee.” And when we love, we can follow. With love to Christ for motive, and Christ Himself for pattern, and following him for our one duty, all things are possible, and the utter defeat of sin in us is but a question of time. The love of Christ, received into the heart, triumphs gradually but surely over all sin, transforms character, turning even its weakness into strength, and so, from the depths of transgression and very gates of hell, raises men to God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Tell Peter, although he has sinned so grievously. It was heartless, repeated, public, wilful.
II. Tell Peter, for he has wept. God’s anger against His children ceases with the commencement of their penitence.
III. Tell Peter, for he has suffered. His thoughts were God’s chastening rod.
IV. Tell Peter he is dear to Christ. Sin can grieve Christ, cause Him to withdraw, wound and disfigure us; but it cannot alter His love.
V. Tell Peter, for he is your brother. They had sinned. Have not we denied our Lord? (Stems and Twigs.)
The news of Christ’s resurrection sent to Peter
No action of Christ’s life is without importance and significance.
I. To whom was this message particularly sent? To Peter, who was then distinguished from the other disciples, not in merit, but in guilt. He was not thus honoured, however, because of his guilt, but because he was now penitent and sorrowful. It was not his cursing and oaths which brought this mercy to him, but his penitence and tears. There is no comfort here for the hardened or careless sinner, or for the self-righteous, or for the man who, in the midst of his iniquity, feels no self-abhorrence, no deep contrition, for his guilt. But for the broken-hearted sinner, there is the sweetest comfort.
II. The gracious Being who sent this message.
1. Christ had just the same compassionate heart after His resurrection that he had before it. Death changed the nature of His body, but not the nature of His heart or the disposition of His soul. He still looks on those who seek Him, with the same tenderness, sympathy, and love.
2. The risen Jesus looks more on the graces than on the sins of the penitent Christian. He seems to have thought more of Peter’s sorrow than of his curses, more of his tears than of his oaths. He sees so much of the desperate wickedness of our hearts, as to make Him contemplate with pleasure the least good His grace enables us to bring forth. Who would not value a flower which he should find blooming on a rock, or throwing its fragrance over the sands of a desert? Not that in giving His grace and pardon, He overlooks the sin; to Peter’s everlasting shame the treachery which he committed is recorded against him in God’s Holy Word. The sin is forgiven, but the remembrance and shame of it still remain.
3. Christ sometimes vouchsafes to the believer, when bowed down with extraordinary sorrow, more than ordinary comfort It is not a light thing that will quiet the conscience of the Christian, after he had been overcome by temptation. The storm which sin occasions in his soul, cannot easily be soothed into a calm. The mourning Christian needs some special interposition of grace and mercy, before he can again cherish in his heart a hope of pardon and acceptance. In the mysterious riches of His goodness, the Lord sometimes vouchsafes to His Saints, in these seasons, peculiar consolations. He recalls their soul, “tossed with tempest and not comforted,” from the contemplation of its own depravity, and tells it to look again with the eye of faith on the cross of His Son.
4. The contrite sinner may draw much comfort and hope from Christ’s resurrection. What a ground for rejoicing have we in the fact that “Christ is risen!” Let us seek to know the power of His resurrection.
III. The messengers employed.
1. An angel. Why?
(1) To do honour to Christ.
(2) To teach us, that the breach between us and the angels is healed. They again regard us as friends and love us as brethren. They are made our ministering servants, and do not disdain the office.
(3) The contrite sinner is peculiarly an object of love to the heavenly hosts. The angel of the Lord has compassion on the weeping Peter, and rejoices to take to him a cup of consolation. What a lesson for ministers, what a lesson for every Christian, is here! It is a heavenly work to comfort the sorrowful.
2. Three poor women receive the message from the lips of this heavenly herald, and carry it to the mourning penitent. Why? They had been first in love, affection, service; it was but right that they should be first in honour and reward. And note the manner in which these women were sent. “Go quickly” (Matthew 28:7). Why such haste? There was nothing sinful in the feelings which a view of their Lord’s tomb was likely to excite; but they were not suffered to stay there to indulge them, that we might be taught that pious feeling must lead to pious actions. It is good and sweet to think of Christ; but it is better to act for Christ. He is the best servant, not who delights to stand in his master’s presence, but who carefully minds and diligently goes about his master’s business. (Charles Bradley, M. A.)
Women as ambassadors
The faculties and abilities of the soul appear both in affairs of state and in ecclesiastical affairs; in matters of government and in matters of religion; and in neither of these are we without examples of able women. For, for state affairs, and matters of government, our age hath given us such a queen, as scarce any former king hath equalled. And in the Venetian story, I remember, that certain matrons of that city were sent by commission, in quality of ambassadors, to an empress with whom that state had occasion to treat. And in the stories of the eastern parts of the world, it is said to be in ordinary practice to send women for ambassadors. And then in matters of religion, women have always had a great hand, though sometimes on the left as well as on the right hand. (John Donne, D. D.)
Reasons for the meeting in Galilee
Why was this meeting fixed in Galilee? Why was this long journey to be taken? Why did Jesus go to Galilee at all after His resurrection? Why was it evidently a matter of so much interest and importance to the mind of Jesus to go there? At Jerusalem He was crucified, at Jerusalem He rose, at Jerusalem He ascended; Jerusalem was the place of all honour; why then should He be so careful to go down to that northern province? Many reasons doubtless there were of which I know nothing; but I think we may be permitted to see some of them.
1. One might lie in that very fact of the distance and the difficulty. For it is a universal law that God always requires efforts, and always blesses the efforts He requires. You will not find your best privileges close to your hand. You must be content to go far for them. You must exercise self-denial and labour to get at them.
2. There is no doubt also that Jesus did it partly because Galilee was despised. He had lived in Galilee as a child and youth; He had taken most of His apostles from thence; and now that He was risen and almost glorified, He was not going to pass by the place He loved in humble life. That would not be the Jesus with whom we have to do.
3. Underlying this feeling, there can be little question that there was a great principle upon which Christ acted,-of extending the proofs of His resurrection as widely as possible. Therefore He manifested His risen body in the two extremes of the land to which that dispensation was confined.
4. Christ was true to all the finer sympathies of our nature, and amongst those sympathies is the love of old, and especially early, associations. (James Vaughan, M. A.)
Mary of Magdala
I. A great sufferer healed by Christ.
II. A grateful ministrant to Christ (Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:41).
III. A faithful adherent to Christ.
IV. A sincere mourner for Christ (Comp. Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; John 20:1-2; John 20:11-18).
V. An honoured messenger of Christ (John 20:17-18; ch. 16:10). (T. S. Dickson, M. A.)
Now when Jesus was risen.
Evidence of the fact of Christ’s resurrection
The empty tomb of Jesus recalls an event which is as well attested as any in history. It is so attested as to put the idea of what is called “illusion” out of the question. The main purpose, the first duty, of the apostolic ministry was to witness to the fact that Christ had risen. The apostles did not teach the resurrection as a revealed truth, as they taught, e.g., the doctrine of justification; they taught the resurrection as a fact of experience-a fact of which they themselves had had experience. And this is why the different evangelists do not report the same appearances of our risen Lord. Each one reports that which he himself witnessed, or that which was witnessed by the eyewitness on whose authority he writes. Put the various attestations together, and the evidence is irresistible. That which these witnesses attest must be true, unless they have conspired to deceive us, or are themselves deceived. The idea that they are deceived, however, cannot be entertained by any man who understands human character; the idea that they were themselves deceived is inconsistent with the character of the witness which they give. No doubt there are states of hallucination, states of mental tension, in which a man may fancy that he sees something which does not in fact present itself to his senses. The imagination for the moment is so energetic as to impose upon the senses an impression which corresponds to that, whatever it be, which creates an emotion within the soul. Nay more, the New Testament itself speaks of inward revelations, sometimes during sleep, sometimes during the waking hours, as was that rapture of which St. Paul wrote, into “the third heaven, whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell-God knoweth.” But the accounts of the appearances of our risen Lord do not at all admit of either of these explanations. If He had been seen only for a passing moment, only by one or two individuals separately, only in one set of circumstances, under one set of conditions again and again repeated, then there would have been room for the suspicion of a morbid hallucination, or at least of an inward vision. But what is the real state of the case? The risen One was seen five times on the day that He was raised from the dead; He was seen a week after; He was seen more than a month after that; and frequently, on many occasions, during the interval; He was seen by women alone, by men alone, by parties of two and three, by disciples assembled in conclave, by multitudes of men, five hundred at a time; He was seen in a garden, in a public roadway, in an upper chamber, on a mountain in Galilee, on the shore by the lake, in the village where His friends dwelt. He taught as before His death, He instructed, He encouraged, He reproved, He blessed, He uttered prolonged discourses which were remembered, which were recorded; He explained passages of Scripture, He revealed great doctrines, He gave emphatic commands, He made large and new promises, He communicated ministerial powers; and they who pressed around Him knew that His risen body was no phantom form, for He ate and drank before them just as in the days of yore, and they could, if they would, have pressed their very fingers into the fresh wounds in His hands and feet and side. In short, He left on a group of minds, most unlike each other, one profound ineffaceable impression, that they had seen and lived with One who had died indeed and had risen again, and that this fact was in itself and in its import so precious, so pregnant with meaning and with blessing to the human race, that it threw in their minds all other facts into relative insignificance; it was worth living for, it was worth dying for. (Canon Liddon.)
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene
The Saviour’s first appearance after resurrection was to a woman. For all He had died. But not to an assembled world does He manifest Himself now that He has risen victorious o’er the grave; not to angels, or apostles; not to the faithful Joseph, or the true-hearted Nicodemus; but to a woman!
I. The character of the person to whom Christ appeared. A woman, and an inhabitant of a distant and unimportant town bordering towards the Gentile frontier, who had been possessed of demons, until Christ reached forth to her the hand of pity.
II. The circumstances under which he appeared to her. He called her by her name.
III. The grand truth here illustrated.
1. It was not a mere chance encounter. Christ having already left the tomb, must have purposely concealed Himself from all His disciples save the one whom He wanted to see and comfort.
2. Jesus revealed Himself to her, unaccompanied by any. No angel hosts: Christ was “all in all.”
3. The manifestation was afforded in a garden to a woman. Eden: Eve. (George Venabbes.)
The power of the gospel to restore the fallen
The flee grace of the gospel, and the holiness it produces, distinguish it from every other system. It both justifies and sanctifies. In its method of justifying, it gives glory to God, and brings peace to man. In its method of sanctifying, it displays the fulness of grace, and delivers from the power of Satan.
I. Those who are most under Satanic influence, are yet within the reach of the Gospel.
1. The power of evil spirits would be exerted over both body and soul, if they were not restrained by a greater power. As it is, Satan blinds the mind; works powerfully in the hearts of the children of disobedience; puts it into men’s hearts to betray the best of Masters, and to lie against the best Friend. All sins, whether against God or against men, are committed in consequence of his temptation.
2. No power can counteract this evil influence but that which is Divine. In heathen countries Satan reigns uncontrolled; in Christian countries his devices are revealed, all his malice is baffled, his kingdom is overthrown.
3. The gospel not merely delivers men from Satanic influence, but exalts men into the most holy characters.
II. The Gospel can effect the reformation of the most abandoned. No sooner was Mary Magdalene dispossessed, than she devotes herself to the service of her Lord. So with all who heartily embrace Christ’s religion. The power of sin in them is destroyed, the influence of Satan is dissolved, and they become willing captives of Christ’s love. Justin Martyr, in one of his apologies, says, “O Emperor; we, who were formerly adulterers, are now chaste; we, who used magic charms, now depend on the immortal God; we, who loved money, now cheerfully contribute to the wants of all; we, who would not sit down with those who were not of the same tribe with us, now cheerfully sit among and pray for the conversion of them that hate us, and persuade them to live according to the excellent precepts of Christ.”
1. Let us learn how admirably the gospel is adapted to the present state of human nature. It finds us guilty, and reveals to us the sovereign mercy of God in Christ. It subdues the corrupt heart; turns men from darkness to light, etc.
2. See what ground this affords for exertion, even in the most desperate cases. (W. Marsh, M. A.)
Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene
I. Who she was. Christ revealed Himself first to a woman. A woman out of whom He had cast seven devils. She had been a special trophy of Christ’s delivering power. In her mighty grace had proved its power. She had become a constant attendant on the Saviour. She spent her substance in relieving His wants.
II. How she sought. Very early in the morning. With very great boldness. Very faithfully: stood at sepulchre. Very earnestly-weeping. Perseveringly. Sought Christ only. There was much ignorance, very little faith, but much love.
III. How she found Him. Jesus Christ was discovered to her by a word. Her heart owned allegiance by another word. Her next impulse was to seek close fellowship. She then entered on His service. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. A melancholy instance of Satanic power.
II. A glorious trophy of Divine grace. The cure was unsought by her. Mary resisted the healing hand. She was healed by a word. She was healed instantaneously.
III. An ardent follower of Christ.
IV. A faithful adherent to her Master under all trial.
V. One of the most favoured beholders of Christ.
VI. An honoured messenger of Christ to the apostles. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Was it not most meet that a woman should first see the risen Saviour. She was first in the transgression, let her be first in the justification. In yon garden she was first to work our woe; let her in that other garden be the first to see Him who works our weal. She takes the apple of that bitter tree which brings us all our sorrow; let her be the first to see the Mighty Gardener, who has planted a tree which brings forth fruit unto everlasting life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Mary Magdalene represents those who have come under the tormenting and distracting power of Satan, and whose lamp of joy is quenched in tenfold night. They are imprisoned not so much in the dens of sin as in the dungeons of sorrow; not so criminal as they are wretched; not so depraved as they are desolate. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Persons possessed with devils were unhappy; they found the gloom of the sepulchre to be their most congenial resort. They were unsocial and solitary. If they were permitted, they broke away from all those dear associations of the family circle which gave half the charms to life; they delighted to wander in dry places, seeking rest and finding none; they were pictures of misery, images of woe. Such was the seven-times unhappy Magdalene, for into her there had entered a complete band of devils. She was overwhelmed with seven seas of agony, loaded with seven manacles of despair, encircled with seven walls of fire. Neither day nor night afforded her rest, her brain was on fire, and her soul foamed like a boiling cauldron. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To sum up much in few words, there is no doubt that Mary Magdalene would have been considered by us to be demented; she was, practically, a maniac. Reason was unshipped, and Satan stood at the helm instead of reason, and the poor barque was hurried hither and thither under the guidance of demons. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A modern illustration
I remember a man of excellent character, well-beloved by his family and esteemed by his neighbours, who was for twenty years enveloped in unutterable gloom. He ceased to attend the house of God, because he said it was no use; and although always ready to help in every good work, yet he had an abiding conviction upon him that, personally, he had no part nor lot in this matter, and never could have. The more you talked to him the worse he became; even prayer seemed but to excite him to more fearful despondency. In the providence of God, I was called to preach the Word in his neighbourhood; he was induced to attend, and, by God’s gracious power, under the sermon he obtained a joyful liberty. After twenty years of anguish and unrest, he ended his weary roamings at the foot of the cross, to the amazement of his neighbours, the joy of his friends, and to the glory of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hope for the worst
Until the gate of hell is shut upon a man, we must not cease to pray for him; and if we see him hugging the very door posts of damnation, we must go to the mercy seat and beseech the arm of grace to pluck him from his dangerous position. The case of Mary Magdalene is a looking glass in which many souls, wrung with anguish, may see themselves. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And she went and told them.
A sad interior and a cheery messenger
Mark is graphic: he paints an interior like a Dutch artist. We see a choice company-“Them that had been with Him.” We know many of the individuals, and are interested to note what they are doing, and how they bear their bereavement. We see-
I. A sorrowing assembly. “As they mourned and wept.” What a scene I We behold a common mourning, abundantly expressed by tears and lamentations. They mourned-
1. Because they had believed in Jesus, and loved Him; and therefore they were concerned at what had happened.
2. Because they felt their great loss in losing Him.
3. Because they had seen His sufferings and death.
4. Because they remembered their ill-conduct towards Him.
5. Because their hopes concerning Him were disappointed.
6. Because they were utterly bewildered as to what was now to be done, seeing their Leader was gone.
II. A consoling messenger.
1. Mary Magdalene was one of themselves.
2. She came with the best of news. The resurrection of Christ
(a) removes the cause of sorrow;
(b) assures of the help of a living Redeemer;”
(c) secures personal resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23);
(d) brings personal justification (Romans 4:25).
3. She was not believed.
(a) Unbelief is apt to become chronic: they had not believed the Lord when He foretold His own resurrection, and so they do not believe an eyewitness who reported it.
(b) Unbelief is cruelly unjust: they made Mary Magdalene a liar, and yet all of them esteemed her.
III. A reassuring reflection.
1. We are not the only persons who have mourned an absent Lord.
2. We are not the only messengers who have been rejected.
3. We are sure beyond all doubt of the resurrection of Christ.
(a) The evidence is more abundant than that which testifies to any other great historical event.
(b) The apostles so believed it as to die as witnesses of it.
(c) They were very slow to be convinced, and therefore that which forced them to believe should have the same effect on us.
4. Great reason, then, for us to rejoice. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A sorrow is none the less sharp because it is founded upon a mistake. Jacob mourned very bitterly for Joseph, though his darling was not torn in pieces, but on the way to be lord over all Egypt. Yet while there is of necessity so much well-founded sorrow in the world, it is a pity that one unnecessary pang should be endured, and endured by those who have the best possible grounds for joy. The case in the text before us is a typical one. Thousands are at this day mourning and weeping who ought to be rejoicing. Oh, the mass of needless grief! Unbelief works for the father of lies in this matter, and works misery out of falsehood among those who are not in truth children of sadness but heirs of light and joy. Rise, faith, and with thy light chase away this darkness! And if ever thou must have thy lamp trimmed by a humble Mary, do not despise her kindly aid.
“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. (Cuyler.)
After that He appeared in another form.
The changing form of the unchanging Saviour
I. Christ has a form. Eliphaz said (Job 4:15-16). Not thus is the Lord Jesus presented to us in the New Testament. Throughout His earthly life He appears, not in uncertain and wavering lines, but in all the distinctness and power of a human personality. And during the forty days it is the same. The corporeity of the Redeemer is glorified, but it is still the “man Christ Jesus” with all His individual characteristics. In our day strong endeavours are being made to get rid of the “form” of Christ; to substitute what is vague and visionary for the definite and palpable truth as it is in Jesus. The prophet says, “The heart is deceitful.” Half this, it seems, is true; the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately good, for modern introspection has found in it a Messiah, a Church, and a Bible. Let us enter our protest against these endeavours to reject a substantive religion.
1. We have those who reject the historical Christ on behalf of a mystical Christ. Spiritual men, we are told, attain positions which render historical saviours redundancies. They find a diviner Christ in their heart. But, my brethren, can we forego the Christ who is painted with such severe realism in the New Testament for that idealistic Christ whom men assume to find in their own heart? Must we vaporize the Christ of the Gospels into that formless, bloodless Christ known in certain quarters as the inward, the spiritual, the eternal Christ? Surely not. If we reject the historic Christ we shall soon have no Christ at all, for the Christ we find in our heart is simply the reflection of the historic Christ. What Christ did Morison find in the heart of the Chinese? or Carey in the heart of the Hindoo? or John Hunt in the heart of the Fijian? A very equivocal Christ, surely!
2. We have those who reject the visible Church for the invisible Church. The Church of God does not exist, we are told, as a visible institution. The external Church-sacraments, ritual, ministers, and impertinences. “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” Once more Christ is to become disembodied and formless; His Church is to be sublimated into that featureless shade known as Plymouthism. Against this etherealization we must protest also. The true Church, which is Christ’s “body,” will resemble Christ’s resurrection body; being at once spiritual and corporeal; heavenly and earthly; invisible, as its deepest life is hid in God, and yet revealing in its organisation and government and ordinances the power and grace of its immortal Head; with human features and human raiment, and yet standing before the world, as the Master stood on the Mount, transfigured in a glory altogether unearthly and Divine.
3. We have those who reject dogmatic theology for subjective truth. Some of these reject the Scriptures altogether-looking into the heart they find a surer Bible. They spurn a “book revelation;” the eternal truth is wronged by any attempt to give it “form.” Or, if revelation is accepted, no “form of sound words” must be allowed; the teachings of revelation must not be expressed in any distinct and definite doctrine. They must have the milky way where all is nebulous and undistinguished light; they cannot tolerate the astronomy which for practical purposes makes a map of the stars; they must have the light-the pure, white, orbless light-and look with contempt on Sir Isaac Newton who with the prism breaks up the light for human uses. The mysticism which rejects the orb, which rejects the prism, forgets the limitations of man, and the practical needs of human life. The Word of God and the creed of His Church are sun and rainbow, one shedding the light, the other analyzing it, and both essential for the illumination and pacification of the world.
II. The form of Christ is susceptible of change. “In another form.” The form of Christ still changes, as perhaps all forms change. There are constant and legitimate changes in the presentment of Christ; in the expression of evangelical doctrine; in the ritual and government of Christ’s Church. Christ changes the form of His manifestation for great ends.
1. That the form shall not stand between us and the Saviour Himself. We can only know Christ through the form, and up to a certain point any particular form may help us, but at length the form instead of being a medium of revelation may become a screen. Spiritual meaning evaporates from the best definitions; ceremonies are emptied of their meaning; and the Church order which once aided the gospel may become inoperative and obstructive. The form may become a darkened glass to hide Christ, and lest this should be the case the form is ever being changed so that we may all with open face behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord.
2. That He may make Himself known to men of the most diverse character and circumstance. It seems very probable that the appearance of Christ was altered from time to time during the forty days to meet the several cases of the disciples. Our religion, thank God, is for the world, and it has all the richness and versatility of a universal faith. What a scene of infinite variety is this world of ours! How it teems with individuality, originality, eccentricity, divergence, contrast! So the Christian Church does not come with stereotyped language, a rigid ritual, an unalterable rubric, but it meets the infinite richness of human nature with infinite flexibility and inexhaustible resource. Christ comes in many forms that He may meet the multitudiousness and manifoldness of the race.
3. That He may become the Saviour of all generations. With the perpetual and inevitable changes of time Christ constantly reappears in new forms. The world does not outgrow Christ, but Christ confronts successive generations in new forms, appropriate forms, richer forms. Christianity never becomes obsolete; in the midst of a new world it stands forth in a new form, but with all its ancient power and grace. The old truth speaks in new language; the old spirit passes into new vessels; the old life pulsates in new organizations; the old purpose is accelerated by a new programme. The Church of Christ does not present the spectacle of an antique corporation, but it is strong, fresh, aggressive, and hopeful a ever today (Psalms 110:2-3). The “new religion,” what is that, Positivism? No, Positivism is the new superstition; Christianity is the new religion - the old religion and the new. This earth is old, very old, and yet today when you look at the primrose, the anemone, and all the fresh young beauty of the spring, you feel it is the new earth also. So is it with Christianity. Older than the hills, it is vital, and fresh and fruitful as ever. The Christianity of St. Paul, of Chrysostom, of Bernard, of John Howe, of John Wesley, produces at this very moment the brightest, grandest, happiest thoughts and things of the modern world. “The word of the Lord endureth forever, and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” Observe-
III. That under the changing form are abiding characteristics. For a time the eyes of the disciples were holden, and they knew not with whom they talked, but in the end they recognized their Master. How shall we recognise the Master? Under changing forms how shall we be sure of His presence? There are many anti-Christs in the world; many creeds and doctrines set forth as Christ’s which are not Christ’s. The old Scandinavian heroes after eating an ox are fabled as making another to grow in its hide the next day. Many in modern times have caught the trick of denying the vital facts and doctrines of the gospel, and then substituting vain dreams of their own under the language, institutions, and symbols of Christianity. But yet we need hardly be deceived.
1. There is the sign of reality. John writes (2 John 1:7.) Let us turn from all those who would turn Christ into an abstraction or personification.
2. There is the sign of glory. In the beginning of their intercourse with the stranger Cleophas and his companion had no exalted idea of the stranger, but as they conversed with Him their sense of His greatness grew until they knew Him to be their risen Lord. They recognized the sign of His divinity. Where the glory of the Divine, the Risen, the Reigning Lord does not shine forth, “this is a deceiver and anti-Christ.”
3. There is the sign of sacrifice. It has been conjectured that in the breaking of the bread the disciples saw the mark of the nails in the Saviour’s hands. However this may be, their mind was full of the sufferings of Christ, and they recognized in Him the Victim of Calvary. Let us, like the monk in the old legend, ask for the print of the nails. The true gospel is the gospel of the cross; the true ministry confesses, “I am determined to know nothing among men, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified;” the true worship ascribes salvation “to Him who has washed us from our sins in His own blood.” The “form” may change, but by “the tokens of His Passion, by the marks received for me,” all His people discern Him with exultation and assurance. (W. L. Watkinson.)
And upbraided them with their unbelief.
The departing Saviour
It cannot be a matter of indifference to the pious to know in what manner the blessed Saviour took final leave of His earthly Church. If we really love Him it cannot but interest us to understand how He conducted Himself, how He looked, and what were the last things He said and did. Upon these points the Scriptures are not silent; and the whole account is quite in keeping with what we would naturally expect.
I. Our departing Saviour’s chidings. Love itself gave birth to these upbraidings. There is nothing so subtle or so damaging to the peace of souls as the workings of unbelief. Faith is the great saving grace; where it is wanting there is misery, darkness, death. Therefore, because He loved them, and wished to have them take in and possess the true joys of faith, Christ upbraided His disciples with their unbelief. They deserved and required chiding, for their unbelief was due to their own hardness of heart, not to the want of evidence. The Lord’s valedictory admonition is repeated to us again today. We may not have doubted that He rose from the dead, but have we so believed as to take all the momentous implications of Christ’s resurrection home to our souls, and to have them living in our lives? (Romans 6:4-6; Colossians 3:1-2.)
II. Our departing Saviour’s commands. Another manifestation of His love. He would that all should be saved.
1. The gospel must be preached. This is a Divine work, and a binding obligation. No Christian is exempt from the duty, and none excluded from the privilege and honour of taking part in it, according to his sphere and measure.
2. The gospel must be heard.
3. The sacrament of baptism must be administered. Faith without obedience is nothing, and salvation is promised only to him “who believeth and is baptized.” It may seem to be a very small thing-a mere insignificant ceremony; but in whatever way men look upon it Jesus appointed it, and has connected with it all the sublime benefits of His mediation.
III. Our departing saviour’s promises (Hebrews 2:4; Acts 16:16-24; Acts 19:11-12). Many demons, also, of pride, covetousness, uncleanness, drunkenness, gluttony, ambition, lust, hatred, moroseness, and spirits of wickedness innumerable, did the apostles expel by their preaching, turning men from their idols to serve the living and true God (Acts 2:5-11; Acts 10:46; Acts 28:1-6; Acts 3:1-9; Acts 9:33-35; Acts 14:8-11). Time would fail to tell the works of healing wonder which the disciples wrought in the name of Jesus by prayer and the laying on of hands, in which the Master fulfilled His promise. Nor was the promise or the fulfilment of it confined to them alone. It is still outstanding, firm, and good; and always must hold good, as long as the gospel is preached, and men are found to believe it.
IV. The departure itself. No thunder, as at Sinai; no darkness, as at the crucifixion; no overpowering radiance, as at the transfiguration. Only the gentle lifting up of the hands to bless. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
1. That He might keep them humble through the memory of their past weakness, and their readiness at all times to fall away from Him.
2. He reminds them of their incredulity and blindness of heart, so that they might be gentler in dealing with those who sinned, and who were unable to perceive and hold the truth.
3. He did so also for our sakes in order that we may not doubt, seeing that they so greatly doubted, and yet had all their doubts removed by the clear evidence of their own senses. Their faithlessness is the stimulus to our faith, and their doubt removes all ground of doubt from us. And in thus showing the littleness of their faith and their natural unaptness to be His messengers, Christ indicates the greatness of that gift which was able to overcome all natural disqualifications, and to make these doubting disciples the faithful ministers and stewards of His gospel. Those who had fled when no real danger existed he sends into the midst of a people thirsting for their blood; those who had not comprehended Him He chooses for the work of making others comprehend Him; those who had not believed in the very witnesses of His resurrection He sends forth as the witnesses themselves of this same truth, that so we might know that the promulgation of Christianity is the direct work, not of men, but of God. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Effects of uncertainty
If one should go into the Louvre at Paris, and see the Venus de Milo, and begin to have admiration for that highest conception of a noble woman held by the Greek mind, and his guide should whisper to him, “It is very uncertain whether this is the original statue; in the time of Napoleon it was stolen, and it is said that it was sent back; but many think that another was made in imitation of it, and put in its place, and that this is the imitation,” it would kill that man’s enthusiasm in a second; and he is not going to say, “I admire that countenance,” because it may not be that countenance. And the moment you introduce the element of uncertainty in regard to any substantial religious conviction, your doubt has taken away that enthusiasm which only goes out toward certainty. (Beecher.)
Go ye into an the world and preach the gospel.
Christ’s commission to His apostles
I. The work. Preaching the gospel.
1. Speaking. Much of the real and useful work of life is wrought by words. They are the tools of almost every worker in some department of his toil. In preaching the gospel they are the chief agency.
2. The gospel. Gospel, in the lips of Jesus, represented facts in the eternal past and in the eternal future-promises, predictions, His own history, dispensations of the grace of God, and certain aspects of the government of God; and gospel, to the ears of the eleven, represented the same central truths, with the outlying truths unrevealed, so that they could not mistake what Jesus meant when He said, “Preach the gospel.”
3. A new work this. Not preaching merely-that was old enough; but preaching the gospel.
4. A Divine work. Commenced by God Himself. A work which claims high esteem for all engaged in it; a work in which the loftiest ambition may be satiated; a work whose results surpass in blessedness the creation of earth and heaven.
II. The workmen.
1. Men of little refinement or education. This gave them sympathy with the common people, if not influence over them.
2. Men of ordinary secular occupations.
3. Great varieties of natural character among them. No two were alike. Yet these very different men were called to do the same work. The same gospel may be preached in very different styles with equal success.
4. They had received special training for their special work. As more was expected from them than from others, more had been done for them.
5. Yet they were far from being perfect men. Just before this commission was addressed to them they were upbraided by Christ with their unbelief and hardness of heart. A perfect man or a perfect preacher is not necessary for the preaching of a perfect gospel.
6. Although not perfect men, they were men to whom special promises were made-promises of the presence of Christ and of the Holy Ghost-promises of power.
7. They were representative men, foundation men, men who had to begin what others should carry on.
III. The sphere of work. The whole world. No limitations of country or climate; no distinctions of barbarism and civilization, bondage and freedom, preparedness or otherwise of particular peoples. Wherever there were men these workmen were to go. “Every creature”-for every creature hath sinned, and every creature is guilty before God, and every creature is going astray, and every creature is liable to punishment. For every creature there is gospel enough and to spare. What a glorious sphere for working-the world, man, men, all men, every creature! And what work! These workmen are builders of a temple that shall fill the world, and stewards of wealth which shall enrich the world, and ambassadors upon an errand of supreme importance to the world, and sowers in the field of the world, by whose agency the wilderness shall become a fruitful field, men shall be reconciled to God, the poor shall become heirs of God, and “the tabernacle of God,” etc. (Revelation 21:3-4).
IV. The master of the workmen. He who saith “Go,” came into the world. He who saith “Go ye,” Himself came: came not by deputy or proxy, but Himself came. He who saith “Go ye and preach,” Himself preached. He who saith “Go ye and preach the gospel,” is the gospel. He who saith “Go into the world to every creature,” is the propitiation for the sins of the world. With such a Master the lack of willing workmen is truly wonderful. Shall we neglect to obey? Shall we undervalue obedience as a means of redemption to others? All cannot preach, but all can repeat the faithful saying, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and all can unite in sending forth men qualified to preach, and in sustaining such men by contributions of property, by manifestations of sympathy, and by prayer. (S. Martin, D. D.)
A ragged school teacher went out into the lanes of our city to bring in neglected children. He found a child, the very incarnation of wickedness and wretchedness, and led her to the school. There she heard expounded and applied the parable of the prodigal son. Shortly after the child was seized by fever, and the teacher visited her. In one of his visits he read this parable, and when he came to the words, “When he was yet a great way off his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him,” the child exclaimed, “Ah, that was just like me! That’s good; say it again-‘a great way off!’ What, ever so far, away, away, like me with the devil? That must be far from God and the Lamb. Yes! I was a great way off. How good! how kind! But I’m afraid! have been worse than that bad son. Still, I have said ‘Dear Jesus, I want to love you, I want to get away from the devil; please help me.’ And I think He heard me, for I have felt somehow different ever since. I am not afraid now; no, not one bit.” When death was so near that it was supposed that all power of utterance was gone, she aroused herself, and said, in a clear and distinct voice, evidently referring to destitute children allowed still to wander through the streets and lanes of the city: “Fetch them in; oh, be sure and fetch them in! Fetch them in and tell them of Jesus, tell them of Jesus; oh, be sure and fetch them in.” (S. Martin, D. D.)
The apostolic commission
I. This commission is most important in its nature. Consider-
1. Its Divine origin.
2. Its adaptation to the circumstances of mankind.
3. Its efficiency.
4. Its individuality.
One and the same salvation for all and each. One common remedy for the universal disease. If there were some given place where all must needs be, and many roads led to it. It would not be essentially important which we took; but if there were but one road which would conduct the traveller to the place where all should be, how carefully should that road be sought! And is not Christ the only way to heaven?
II. This commission is legitimate in its authority. It is the command of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. And His authority is twofold.
1. It is official-by delegation from His Father.
2. It is essential. Authority without control.
III. This commission is official in its execution. It is to be done by preaching. There is a special commission for those sent out to preach.
1. The preacher must have a personal realization of the benefits of the gospel in his own heart. How can an unbeliever inculcate faith? How can an impenitent man call sinners to repentance?
2. The preacher must have an ardent love to the fallen souls of men.
3. He must have a solemn, heartfelt impression, that the Author of the gospel requires this at his hands.
4. He must have suitable qualifications.
5. He must have the sanction of his brethren in the ministry.
IV. This commission is universal in its extent.
1. Universal in point of place.
2. Universal in point of persons.
1. This subject enables us to meet the infidel objection which is urged against the gospel on the ground of its partial diffusion. This is not God’s fault. He commands that His salvation be proclaimed to the ends of the world.
2. How loud is the call on our gratitude that the gospel has been proclaimed to us.
3. How imperative is the obligation that we hand it on to others. (R. Newton.)
Reasons for the preaching of the gospel
I. The world knows not God. By its own wisdom it cannot find Him out. Instruction needed which God alone can impart. God has imparted the knowledge of Divine things to some, and ordered them to convey that knowledge to the rest of the world.
II. The temporal miseries of the heathen are very great. To what torture do they submit in their blind devotion to false gods! Hasten to lead them out of their ignorance and superstition into the light of the knowledge of the only true God.
III. The woe that awaits them beyond the grave. What an education for eternity is theirs!
IV. The Gospel is the power of God to everyone who receives it. (H. Townley.)
The duty of Christians with respect to missions
I. The nature of this command.
II. The extent of this command.
III. The period when this command was given. (J. Langley, M. A.)
Good news for you
I. The Gospel is a revelation of love. Is there not sunshine enough in the sky for your daily paths, and is there not enough water in the ocean to bear your small craft? The love of God is like the sunshine, and His goodness is like the ocean; there is enough for you; and if you will but take the gospel as meant for you, His great love shall be shed abroad in your heart by the power of the Holy Ghost.
II. The Gospel also is a provision of peace. It takes the sting from trouble; it takes the pain from sickness; it breathes to all, hope, paradise, joy. And it imparts peace at all times. Wherever you are, whatsoever you may be, and through whatever you may pass, the gospel gives you a peace that sustains you safely. Like yonder impregnable British fortress at Gibraltar, so God’s peace shall keep you. The waves may dash against that ancient fortress, and guns may burst their fireballs upon it, but that rock is impregnable; held by British hearts it shall stand against all the foes of the world. So God’s peace shall enter your soul, and keep you in all the trials and storms of life.
III. The Gospel is a call to liberty. What is it that causes men to feel the pain of guilt? it is that they are afraid of being discovered; they are afraid of men pointing the finger of scorn at them. But how blessed to know that when we stand before the bar of God all our sins shall be blotted out.
IV. The Gospel is an inspiration of power. It tells us that the Lord shall stand up in your heart and raise a standard, which shall hurl back the flood of sin. However great the torrent may be the Lord shall breathe power to check it.
V. The Gospel is the inspiration of power to be holy. We cannot in our own strength run the heavenly race; but Jesus enters into us, abides in our hearts, and gives us His own almighty strength.
VI. The Gospel also offers a present joy. Blessings, mercies, pardon, peace-all to be had now.
VII. The Gospel constrains us to love God, and to live holy lives, by the most powerful motive. What can constrain us like the love of Jesus? (W. Birch.)
Life in the gospel
I. The Gospel is brought to us by Jesus, our kinsman.
II. In the Gospel Jesus reveals to us the character of God. When you hold a magnet to a little bit of steel the two are drawn together, on account of some mysterious affinity between them. So, when a sincere mind examines the way to God pointed out by Jesus in the Gospel, and we are true as steel to the Saviour magnet, we are drawn to the breast of our God.
III. The chief gem of the Gospel is, that every human being is forgiven. We forgive men after they have begged us to do so, but God forgives men before they ask.
IV. Every man who sincerely believes the Gospel shall be saved from the power of his sin. Salvation is not a varnish to hide our blemishes; it is a new spirit which roots out every sin.
V. The Gospel is for every man. (W. Birch.)
Preach, preach, preach everywhere
I. What it is that we have to carry to every creature. The great truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” What is meant by the word preach? Its meaning is extensive. It includes all church work for the spread of the gospel.
II. What is the extent of this commission? No limit as to where this gospel is to be preached. No limit as to the persons to whom it is to be preached.
III. The inducement to enlist in this service and obey this command. God has said it. It is a delight to God. By it the elect are to be gathered out. We should do it for our own sakes. Because Jesus wills it.
IV. What powers have we to work with and how can we do it? If all cannot preach, yet they may either teach the young or influence their own households. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Up, guards, and at them”
Search ye out, and look what you can do, and whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do with all your might, for the grave will soon open for you, and there is no work nor device in the grave whither you are hastening. “Up, guards, and at them,” was said in the day of battle, and I may say it to every Christian. We shall not bless the world by big schemes, mighty theories, gigantic plans. Little by little grows the coral reef on which afterwards gardens are to be planted. Little by little must the kingdom come, each man bringing his mite and laying it down at Jesus’ feet. So breaks the light. Beam by beam it comes. One by one come the arrows from the bow of the sun, and at last darkness flies. So, so must break the everlasting morn. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Compel them to come in”
He would be a poor sportsman who would sit in his house and expect the game to come to him. He that would have it must go abroad for it, and he that would serve his Master must go into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A great work
Oh, church of God! thy Lord has given thee a work almost as immense as the creation of a world; nay, it is a greater work than that; it is to recreate a world. What canst thou do in this? Thou canst do nothing effectively unless the Holy Spirit shall bless what thou attemptest to do. But that He wilt do, and if thou dost gird up thy loins, and thy heart be warm in this endeavour, thou shalt yet be able to preach Jesus Christ to every creature under heaven. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The great commission
I. It is implied that there is at last a Gospel in the world; not a history merely, not a philosophy, but a gospel-a way of salvation for dying men; a finished thing, to which nothing is to be added, and from which nothing is to be taken.
II. This commission to preach the gospel to all the world also implies the continuity of the Church as a preaching, teaching body.
III. The extension and establishment of the gospel through the world, till it everywhere comes to be a dominant power in society, is an obligation on our part in whatever light we examine it.
1. Consider the gospel as related to whatever is best in human civilization. Civilization is but a secular name for Christianity itself. Popular education comes from the gospel. As the dignity of man is realized there comes a liberalizing of government, and tyrannic dynasties are overthrown. Domestic felicity, literature and art, are aided by the gospel.
2. But beyond all this look at the spiritual wants of man to which the gospel ministers. It transfigures man’s whole life.
3. Recall the new impressions which we ourselves have received of the greatness and value of the gospel. We have felt its inspiring energy in our own hearts.
4. Thus we enter the fellowship of the noblest souls of earth-a society grander than that of a mere intellectual companionship-even with the ancient martyrs. But best of all, the execution of this great commission brings us into fellowship with Jesus Christ, in His unique and royal work. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Every Christian a preacher
It is often said that there are not preachers enough to meet the demands of the land and of the world. That may be true. But every living Christian is a preacher. Every prayerful, earnest, godly life is a sermon. There are a hundred ways of preaching Jesus without choosing a Bible text or standing in a pulpit. A Wilberforce could proclaim the gospel of love on the floor of the British Parliament, even though he wore no surplice and never had a bishop’s hand laid upon his honoured head. George H. Stuart was an apostle of the cross when he organized the Christian commission for soldiers’ tents; and John Macgregor was another when he organized the “Shoe-black Brigades” in the streets of London. Hannah More preached Christ in the drawing room, and Elizabeth Fry in prison cells, and Florence Nightingale in the hospitals, and Sarah F. Smiley among the negro freedmen of the South. Our Master scatters His commissions very widely. Harlan Page dropping the tract and the kind word through the city workshops; John Wanamaker, the Christian merchant, mustering poor children into his “Bethany” mission house; James Lennox, giving his gold to build churches and hospitals; the Dairyman’s Daughter, murmuring the name of Jesus with her faint, dying voice; George Muller, housing and feeding God’s orphans-all these were effective and powerful preachers of the glorious gospel of the Son of God. There is a poor needlewoman in my congregation whose unselfish, cheerful, holy life impresses me as much as any pulpit message of mine can possibly impress her. A true and noble life is the mightiest of discourses. It is the sermons in shoes that must convert the world to Jesus, if it is ever to be converted. (Dr. Cuyler.)
To every creature
Christ’s own word for it, come with me to that scene in Jerusalem where the disciples are bidding Him farewell. Calvary, with all its horrors, is behind Him; Gethsemane is over, and Pilate’s judgment hall. He has passed the grave, and is about to take His place at the right hand of the Father. Around Him stands His little band of disciples, the little church He was to leave to be His witnesses. The hour of parting has come, and He has some “last words” for them. Is He thinking about Himself in these closing moments? Is He thinking about the throne that is waiting Him, and the Father’s smile that will welcome Him to heaven? Is He going over in memory the scenes of the past; or is He thinking of the friends who have followed Him so far, who will miss Him so much when He is gone? No, He is thinking about you. You imagined He would think of those who loved Him? No, sinner, He thought of you then. He thought of His enemies, those who shunned Him, those who despised Him, those who killed Him-He thought what more He could do for them. He thought of those who world hate Him, of those who would have none of His gospel, of those who would say it was too good to be true, of those who would make excuse that He never died for them. And then turning to His disciples, His heart just bursting with compassion, He gives them His farewell charge: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” They are almost His last words, “to every creature.” (D. L. Moody.)
Preach the gospel
When we ask in these days what does this injunction mean, the answers which come to us, from within and from without the Church, are many and discordant. As in the earliest times of Christianity there were pseudo-gospels, counterfeits, and forgeries, so it is now.
I. Among these pseudo-gospels outside the pale of the Church we have-
1. The gospel of reason; the idea that man, by his own mental power, is rapidly acquiring a newer and truer wisdom, which is to make the world happier and better than it has ever been. It is a religion of the head, not the heart; it cannot therefore apprehend spiritual verities.
2. The easy, plausible gospel of universal toleration and philanthropy, which assumes and abuses the sacred name of love. Indifferent altogether for truth, caring only for expediency. Anything for peace.
3. The gospel of sentiment-the religion which very much resembles those pictures in which the cross is almost hidden by gay coloured flowers-satisfying itself with music, sensational preaching, controversial reading, and much speaking, but shirking the plain uninteresting duties of daily life, and doing no real work for others, for the soul, and for God.
4. The gospel of wealth, pleasure, honour, authority, believing (so falsely) that a man’s life consists in the abundance of the things he possesses.
II. And then, within the Church, how many gospels? Alas, what sore surprise and sorrow would vex the righteous soul of one of those who lived in the earlier, happier days of our faith could he re-visit this world and witness our unhappy divisions! “What has become,” he would say, “of the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship? How the seamless robe of our crucified Lord is rent and torn; and that, not by declared enemies, but by professed friends!”
III. What, then, are we to preach? We must appeal to two friends, whom we shall find in every heart; two allies who will help us; two witnesses who will come into court.
(1) Love and
Let all seek Christ as their Saviour, lest they tremble when He comes to be their Judge. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)
Missionary work for all Christians
After these words were spoken, the missionary duty of the Church, in its nearest and remotest extent, was as little a matter of doubt as the resurrection. A thousand other things it may do or neglect; may have elaborate organization or none; may build cathedrals, or pitch tents; may master all learning and art, or know nothing save Christ and Him crucified; but go it must, and preach it must, or it is not Christ’s Church. You little children who love Jesus must tell others of His love. You rich men must work through your money; you wise men by your wisdom; you poor uncultured souls through your prayers. Unless you do your utmost to spread the kingdom, you disobey the first law of the kingdom; unless your love reaches out to all men, you have not the spirit of Christ, who died for all. A positive belief and a missionary spirit have long ago been proved the indispensable characteristics of a living Church. The Lord speaks in tender tones to rouse our sympathy for those who are perishing for lack of knowledge. He unfolds the magnificent conception of the empire of holy love, exalting the continents and blessing the isles. He stands in the midst of these unredeemed millions and says: “Come. Lo! I am waiting for you here.” But behind all invitations stands the command, “Go, preach;” and above them all rises the judgment, for us and for them, with its eternal blessedness and eternal woe. (C. M. Southgate.)
“I hope,” says Mr. Knibb, of St. Petersburg, in a letter, “the subject of devoting ourselves and our children to God and to His service will be more thought of, and more acted upon, than it has been hitherto. I am more and more convinced that, if St. Paul had ever preached from this particular text, he would have laid great stress on the word ‘go.’ On your peril do not substitute another word for go. Preach is a good word; direct is a good word; collect is a good word; give is a good word. They are all important in their places, and cannot be dispensed with. The Lord bless and prosper those who are so engaged, but still lay the stress on the word go; for ‘how can they hear without a preacher, and how can they preach except they be sent?’ Six hundred millions of the human race are perishing, and there are perhaps thirty among all the Christians in Britain who are at this moment preparing to ‘go’!”
Words of strong authority from the captain to the soldier; from master to servant; from Redeemer to redeemed; from king to subject. No doubt as to possibility, no discussing of dangers, no calculating of results-“Go!” Great oceans, high mountains, wide deserts are in the way; shipwreck, fever, starvation, death-“Go!” The people are brutish and hard of heart; they have slain the Lord; they will not hear the disciple-“Go!” I am but a child, a man of unclean lips; I forsook the Lord and fled; I denied Him “Go!” (C. M. Southgate.)
Go ye into all the world.
Peculiarity of Christianity
There is one feature of Christianity which must strike the mind of every observer, viz., that no other system of religion in the world is missionary. They all limit themselves to the people, country, and clime where they have grown. Where are the missionaries of the religions of China, India, Africa, Persia, or Japan? But no sooner was Christianity introduced into the world than it sent forth its agencies beyond the place of its introduction. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the utmost parts of the earth” are the scope of its operations. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” is the command of the Spirit to all its agents. And hence Christianity has its agents, institutions, literature, and means in every quarter of the globe. What does this prove for Christianity? That, as a system of religion, it is nobler, grander, more benevolent and diffusive than any other; and the success which has crowned Christianity wherever it has gone demonstrates that it is Divine in its origin; adapted to all minds, hearts, lives, and countries; civilizing, meliorating, saving, and beautifying in its effects; and the only religion which can restore a fallen world to its glorious Creator and God. (John Bate.)
A strange messenger
A professional diver said he had in hi, house what would probably strike a visitor as a very strange chimney ornament-the shells of an oyster holding fast a piece of printed paper. The possessor of this ornament was diving on the coast, when he observed at the bottom of the sea this oyster on a rock, with a piece of paper in its mouth, which he detached, and commenced to read through the goggles of his headdress. It was a gospel tract, and, coming to him thus strangely and unexpectedly, so impressed his unconverted heart, that he said, “I can hold out against God’s mercy in Christ no longer, since it pursues me thus.” He became, whilst in the ocean’s depth, a repentant, converted, and (as he was assured) sin-forgiven man. Saved at the bottom of the sea.
Universality of the message
The apostles understood their commission to be general and indiscriminate for every creature; so they received it from Him who laid the foundation of such an extensive ministration by tasting death for every man. Accordingly, they went forth on their commission, to preach the gospel to all the world. They did not square their message by any human system of theology, nor measure their language to the lines of Procrustean creeds. They employed a dialect that traverses the length and breadth of the world. They did not tremble for such an unreserved exhibition of the ark and the mercy seat. They could not bring themselves to stint the remedy which was prepared and intended to restore a dying world, nor would they cramp the bow which God had lighted up in the storm which threatened all mankind. (Dr. T. W. Jenkyn.)
The Church’s orders
During the American war, a regiment received orders to plant some heavy guns on the top of a very steep hill. The soldiers dragged them to the base of the hill, but were unable to get them any farther. An officer, learning the state of affairs, said, “Men, it must be done! I have the orders in my pocket.” So the Church has orders to discipline the world.
Progress of missions
We sometimes complain of the slow progress of missions, as though nothing had been done. Is it nothing that the Church has been aroused to her duty? that every large branch of Zion has her missionary organization? that these amount to eighty? that four thousand missionaries are in the field? that the Word of God is preached in fifteen thousand localities of the heathen world? ten million dollars are collected annually to sustain these missions? that six hundred and eighty-seven thousand converts are enrolled in Africa, and seven hundred and thirteen thousand in Asia? and that, if we add to these the fruits of the Romish missions, we shall number Christians by the million in the heathen world? (Bp. H. M. Thompson.)
The universal gospel
The late Duke of Wellington once met a young clergyman, who, being aware of his Grace’s former residence in the East, and of his familiarity with the ignorance and obstinacy of the Hindoos in support of their false religion, gravely proposed the following question: “Does not your Grace think it almost useless and absurd to preach the gospel to the Hindoos?” The Duke immediately rejoined: “Look, sir, to your marching orders, ‘Preach the gospel to every creature.’”
Success of missions
Carey and his compeers, the first English Baptist missionaries, laboured seven years before the first Hindoo convert was baptized. Judson toiled on for years without any fruit of his labour, until the few churches in this land which sustained him began to be disheartened. He wrote, “Beg the churches to have patience. If a ship were here to carry me to any part of the world, I would not leave my field. Tell the brethren success is as certain as the promise of a faithful God can make it.” The mission was commenced in 1814. In 1870 there were more than a hundred thousand converts.
Vivifying effects of missions
As Peter walked at eventide, his lengthened shadow, as it fell on the gathered sick in the streets of Jerusalem, healed as it swept over them; even so is Christianity going through the earth like a spirit of health, and the nations, miserable and fallen, start up and live as she passes. (F. F. Trench.)
The duty and results of preaching the gospel
I. The extent of our commission.
1. “All the world”-because all the world is involved in transgression.
(1) We learn this from Scripture (Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12).
(2) Experience confirms this. All the foundations of the world are out of course.
2. “All the world”-because man’s wants are everywhere the same. All need pardon; all need enlightenment; all need peace.
3. “All the world”-because God has designed to collect a people for Himself from all the tribes and families of men.
II. The object of our embassy. To preach the gospel-the glad tidings of mercy and grace.
1. The gospel must be preached faithfully. Nothing of our own put in; nothing of God’s left out.
2. The gospel must be preached affectionately. Not to drive men away, but to gather them in; not to terrify, but to console.
3. The gospel must be preached in complete and entire dependence upon the grace of Christ.
III. The results that will attend the acceptance or rejection of our message. None can perish but by their own fault. (George Weight.)
The obligations and requirements of the gospel
I. The nature of the Christian minister’s commission. To preach the gospel, explain its doctrines, to enforce its precepts, to proclaim its promises, and to denounce its threatenings.
II. The end or design of the Christian minister’s commission. To preach the gospel in all the world and to every creature.
1. This implies that all mankind stand in need of the gospel.
2. It implies universality of design on the part of God to bestow the benefits of the gospel on those who receive it.
3. It implies universal grace and efficiency as accompanying the ministry of the gospel to render it effectual for the salvation of all.
4. It implies an obligation on the part of the Church to send its ministers literally into all the world and to every creature.
III. The requirements of the Gospel from those to whom it is preached.
1. The gospel requires faith from those to whom it is preached. Saving faith consists of two parts.
(1) The faith by which the sinner is justified. And in this there are three distinct acts.
(i) The assent of the understanding.
(ii) The consent of the will.
(iii) The soul’s repose and reliance upon Christ for pardon.
(2) The faith by which the Christian daily lives. Trust. Confidence in God, leading to prompt and willing obedience.
2. Baptism. The duties imposed upon all baptized are-
(1) To maintain an open connection with the Church.
(2) To defend the cause of Christ against all adversaries.
(3) To live a holy life.
IV. The results of the reception or rejection of the Gospel. (E. Grindrod.)
The duty of spreading the gospel
Huber, the great naturalist, tells us that if a single wasp discovers a deposit of honey or other food, he will return and impart the good news to his companions, who will then sally forth in great numbers to partake of the fare which has been discovered for them. Shall we who have found honey in the rock Christ Jesus be less considerate of our fellow men than wasps are of their fellow insects? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gospel for every creature
I heard of a woman once who thought that there was no promise in the Bible for her; they were all for other people. One day she got a letter, and, when she opened it, found it was not for her at all, but for some other woman of the same name. It led her to ask herself, “If I should find some promise in the Bible directed to me, how should I know that it meant me, and not some other woman?” And she found out that she must just take God at His word, and include herself among the “whosoevers” and the “every creatures” to whom the gospel is freely preached. (D. L. Moody.)
The great commission:-Christianity and missions are inseparable
A Christian is one who professes to obey Jesus. Jesus has distinctly told us to go and preach the gospel throughout the world; therefore, whatever objections may be brought against Christian missions, are really brought against the authority of Christ and against Christianity itself. The Christian who opposes Christian missions is an anomaly. Some philosophers may say that Christianity is unsuited to the circumstances of every nation. Some philanthropists may say there is a bettor method of doing good to the world; some patriots may say that all we can do should be done in our own country; some politicians may say that it is unwise to interfere with the established institutions of other countries; some practical men may say the results accomplished are not worth the pains taken. Now, if we have no distinct reply to any of these objections, it is sufficient that we are under the orders of Christ, and those orders we must comply with. Suppose that when the commander-in-chief of an army calls his officers to him and says: “You are to storm every battery, to attack every position, of the enemy,” then the subordinate officers were to say: “I can’t see the reason of this; there’s an insuperable difficulty yonder; we had better delay the execution of the command.” It would be monstrous, although it might be that your commander is mistaken, or perhaps the command itself is ambiguous. But in this case the command is not ambiguous; nothing could be more clear-go; go everywhere, go everywhere and preach; preach the gospel to everyone. Nothing could be plainer. And then there is great emphasis given to the command by the circumstances under which it was uttered. A command in battle may be given in the time of conflict, and at the order may be mistaken; but this command was not given under the excitement of conflict; the conflict was over, the battle finished, the victory over death had been won, and calmly, as by a conqueror, this word of command was given. We think much of the last words of anyone who addresses us. These are Christ’s last words: there is great emphasis about them. Part of Christ’s work was complete, the great work of offering a sacrifice for the world; but part of Christ’s work was not complete, the work of publishing the gospel. His own personal ministry was limited-in locality, in time-it only extended over Palestine, and only lasted three years. But the ministry of Christ in the publication of His gospel was to be continued through the agency of His Church.
I. What? what is it we have to do?
1. Preach the gospel. The world had to be possessed for Christ. By the employment of what weapons? Shall swords and spears be collected, soldiers trained, armies organized? “Preach the gospel.” Shall the arts of diplomacy be used? Shall statesmen and rulers be upraised so that they may pass laws by which whole communities under their influence shall be gathered, at least outwardly, into the Church? “Preach the gospel.” Shall the servants of Christ be engaged to amass wealth, so that by money-which is said to be able to do everything-we may purchase the adhesion of the world? “Preach the gospel.” Disdaining these carnal methods referred to, shall we apply ourselves to other methods more spiritual? Shall we apply ourselves to philosophy? Shall we take ourselves to the current theories of the day, and try to overcome the prejudices of the learned, and win the intellect of the wise? “Preach the gospel.”
2. What, then, is this gospel? Good news. That, then, is the gospel-the Saviour-Christ. And this gospel is to be preached-not displayed in outward forms and mystic ceremonies, as the ceremonies of the Old Testament indicated typically the glory that was to come. Go and preach it, declare the truth, speak it to men’s minds, that it may enter their hearts.
3. But why should it be preached by men? Why should it not have been made known by some supernatural, miraculous manner to everyone? Why the delay connected with preaching? There are mysteries we cannot solve. The arts and sciences have been left for man to work out. God gives us the materials for food-we prepare them; provides the land-we have to cultivate it; gives salvation-we have to accept it; the gospel message-we have to propagate it. Then, again, we might say our own spiritual culture requires this work; it would be an injurious thing for us if we had not this work to do. It is not likely we can understand all the mysteries of the Divine procedure, but there is the distinct precept we have to obey. “Preach the gospel.”
II. Why? Ancient predictions prepared us for this commission. Some say-we all say-charity begins at home, so the commission runs, “beginning at Jerusalem.” The apostles unfurled the banner of the cross at Jerusalem, and then went forth displaying it before all the world. Very soon after they began to preach at Jerusalem the gospel was proclaimed at Damascus, Ephesus, Athens, Rome, and afterwards it extended to Macedonia, Spain, and Britain. Does someone say our own country needs all we can do to benefit mankind, all our efforts and all our money, let us wait till all evil is rectified in our own land? Then I would ask who are doing the most for their own land; are they not generally found to be those who are doing most for other lands? But cannot man be saved without hearing the gospel? Why therefore go to them? That might be said with reference to people here in England. Why preach at home? If the objection holds good in one case, it would hold good in the other. “Go into all the world.” But don’t you increase the responsibility of a nation when you make known to them the gospel, supposing they reject it? Is not the man more guilty the more he knows? Such an objection would apply equally to preaching at home, so we should have no preaching at all. But if one country in the world is well adapted for this particular system of truth, there are other countries that are altogether different from that country, and what is fit for it cannot be good for the other. “Go ye into all the world.” We keep to our commission; the command is very clear. Well, but some countries are too cold; their icy mountains frown away the fanatics who would go to those shivering wretches gorging their blubber in their snow huts to try and explain to them the mysteries of Christianity, “Go into all the world.” But some countries are too hot; the burning suns, scorching blast, and arid deserts forbid the things that are suited to temperate climes. “Go into all the world.” But some nations are highly civilized, and don’t need your gospel as savage nations do. “Go into all the world.” But some are two barbarous, eating one another, and looking hungrily at you; it’s madness to go and teach them the mysteries of Christianity. “Go into all the world.” But some parts of the world are the homes of ancient idolatries; their gods are visible, and their worship is fortified by the indulgence of cruelty and lust. It is impossible to win such nations to the pure worship of an invisible Spirit. “Go into all the world.” But some nations are the worshippers of one God with a comparatively pure form of faith; why disturb them? “Go into all the world.” But your religion of the West cannot be suited to the customs of the East. That which suits Anglo-Saxons cannot suit Orientals. But our religion had its birthplace in the East. Missionaries from Syria first came to Britain; now we take back the gospel that we received from them. The gospel has been preached throughout the world: it has gone back to Palestine, Egypt, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The Anglo-Saxon race-the depositories of Christianity-have spread through the world; our commerce is in every country, our ships sail over every sea, our language is spoken in every clime; by the aid of printing, Bibles and books are multiplied in almost every language.
III. To whom? “To every creature.” Not only to nations, you will observe, as though we could convert a nation at once by gaining over the rulers and their passing laws. No; “go and preach the gospel to every creature.” Christianity is a personal thing. Believe thou the gospel. It is for every creature. God would not invite to a banquet those for whom there was no room. Yes, for “every creature.” Christ, who constitutes the gospel, is Divine, and therefore infinite; if not Divine, and merely human, there would be a limitation about His power. “To every creature.” The most unlikely persons to receive the gospel have often been the first to accept it. Publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of heaven before some of those who seemed to be far advanced on the way; therefore we are to preach, not only to barbarous tribes as such, but to the most degraded specimens of those tribes. What! to this hoary-headed heathen whose heathenism is bound up in his very life? “Every creature.” What! to this fierce cannibal gloating over his victories? “Every creature.” What! to this wild tenant of the woods whose intellect seems little above the intellect of the brutes; who seems as if he had no wishes but the most debased of his own debased people. “To every creature.” What! to this man of cultivation? “Every creature.” It is for sinners, and I am a sinner. It is for all, and I am one of the all; and so, having received it, I publish it to others. (N. Hall, LL. B.)
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.
On that belief which is necessary to baptism
The text is an abridgement of our Lord’s last instructions to His apostles before His ascension. Other parts of the same discourse are to be found in Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21. See also Luke 24:45. By comparing these passages with this, it will appear that by “believing and being baptized,” St. Mark plainly means, “believing, repenting, and obeying the gospel”-three things which cannot be separated from each other. He who believes the doctrine of the gospel when preached to him, and by baptism enters into an obligation to live suitably to that belief, and verifies that obligation by his practice, in a life of virtue, righteousness, and charity-shall be saved; but he who rejects the doctrine of the gospel, when duly and reasonably proposed to him, or pretending to embrace it, yet obeys it not-shall be damned.
I. The subjectmatter of the belief necessary to salvation.
1. A doctrine of practice, virtue, and righteousness, within the comprehension of all men.
2. It is to be found in our very nature and reason.
3. It is delivered to us, over and over again, in the Scriptures.
4. It is briefly, but sufficiently, stated in the creeds of the Church.
II. The nature and extent of the act of believing.
1. A firm persuasion, founded upon reasonable and good grounds. Not such a careless credulity as, like a foundation in the sand, quickly suffers whatever is built upon it to fall to the ground (Proverbs 14:14; Acts 17:11). Wise believers will-
(1) Consider the parity and excellence of the doctrine itself, and its accordance with reason, and the nature and attributes of God.
(2) Ponder the evidence of the miracles wrought by Christ.
(3) Examine the prophecies which went before concerning Him, and compare the actions of His life therewith.
(4) Consider also the prophecies that He Himself delivered, and His apostles after Him, and compare them with the whole series of events from that time to this. Thus they will work in themselves a firm persuasion, founded upon reasonable and good grounds.
2. Such a persuasion of mind as produces suitable and proper effects. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
The necessity of believing
I. Objections which have been made to the fact that, in the great concern of man’s salvation, so much stress is laid upon faith.
1. Objections respecting persons. Many have never heard of Christ or His gospel. True; therefore they cannot be included in the statement of the text. They are in the hands of a gracious God, who may bestow on them the mercies of a redemption of which they never heard, The same will apply to infants, idiots, insane persons, and those of defective understanding. God will not exact the tale of bricks, where He has not thought proper to furnish straw. We may conclude, in like manner, concerning what is called invincible ignorance, or ignorance so circumstanced as to admit of no remedy. Where nothing is taught, nothing can be learned. But let a man be very cautious how he attempts to shelter himself under this plea. At the great day it will be inquired very minutely, not only what we did know, but also what we might have known had we so pleased-had we been in earnest and taken due pains. However it may fare with the heathen and others, in a state, really destitute of information, we shall in vain attempt to excuse our unbelief, or misbelief, by our ignorance.
2. Objections respecting doctrines.
(1) They are mysterious; they relate to persons and things in another world, which are therefore hidden from us. What, then, is to be done? Why, certainly, we must believe what God has been pleased to reveal concerning them; and we must form our notions of them, as well as we can, by comparison with those things which are the objects of our senses. Our state, with regard to God and the glories of His heavenly kingdom, is exactly like the state of a blind man, with regard to the sun, and the light thereof. He cannot see the sun, or the light that issues from it; yet he would be unreasonable, should he refuse to believe what his friends, who do see it, tell him concerning it; though, after all, they can but give him a very poor, imperfect idea of it. If it pleased God to open his eyes, and bestow on him the blessing of sight, he would know more of the matter in one single moment, than description, study, and meditation could have taught him in ten thousand years. Such is our case. We cannot see God-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit-we cannot see how they are three, and yet one. But shall we therefore, in opposition to the authority and word of God Himself, deny that they are so? We may reason and dispute upon the subject for ages; but in that instant when we are admitted to His presence, and see Him as He is, every doubt and difficulty will vanish at once; and we shall know how little we did know, or possibly could know, before.
(2) Learned men have been engaged in controversies about these doctrines for many hundred years, and are not yet agreed; what, therefore, must the unlearned do?
(i) Learned men have carried on controversies about everything. If we waited till they were agreed among themselves, we should believe nothing, and do nothing.
(ii) All the disputes concerning the Trinity, have been owing to the vain, idle, and presumptuous curiosity of men, who, instead of believing what God has revealed will ever be prying into that which He has not revealed.
II. The grounds and reasons of faith. Little need be said as to this. For, to what purpose is the gospel preached, unless that it should be believed? When God, with so stupendous a preparation of prophecies and miracles, has published His Word, can it be a matter of indifference whether we believe it or not? No; the Divine Word is not an insignificant Word; it is set, like its Author, for the falling or rising of many. It is not without its effect in everyone to whom it is preached. A strange doctrine has of late years been diffused among us; that sincerity is everything, and that if a man be but sincere, it matters not what he believes, or what he does. If this principle be carried to its full extent, it must take away all distinction between truth and falsehood, right and wrong: it sets upon a level those who crucified Christ, and those who accepted Him as their Lord and Master; those who persecuted the Christians, and the Christians who were persecuted. Before a man can lay any claim to sincerity, in the full and proper sense of the word, he must be able to show, when God, to whom all things are known, and all hearts are open, shall call upon him, that he has not, through indolence, neglected to search after the truth; nor, through passion, prejudice, or interest, refused to receive it. This will go to the bottom of the dispute, and lay open the deception. It will enable us likewise to answer another plea sometimes urged in favour of infidelity, viz., that there can be no merit, or demerit, in believing, or disbelieving; that a man cannot believe as he pleases, but only as the evidence appears to him. Answer: If God have given, as He certainly has, good and sufficient evidence, it is at any man’s peril that he rejects it; and he rejects it, not because the evidence, is insufficient, but because his own heart is corrupt. (Bishop Horne.)
Christ’s last words
These words require as serious attention as any ever spoken. They are the words of the risen Christ, and His last words. They contain in them the sum of the gospel. Life and death, and the conditions of both; the terms of eternal happiness and misery. If a malefactor at the bar should see the judge going about to declare to him upon what he might expect life or death, how diligently he would attend. All sinners are malefactors. The Judge of heaven and earth declares here, upon what terms we may live, though we be cast out, found guilty, and condemned. It is not a matter of credit or estate, but a matter of life and death, of the life of our souls. It is no less than eternal life or eternal death that these words concern.
Faith and unbelief
Salvation or damnation depend upon faith and unbelief. No salvation but by faith. Nothing but damnation by unbelief. Faith is the principal saving grace, and unbelief the chief damning sin. No sin can damn without this, and this will damn without any other sin (John 3:18). Where there is not faith, the sentence of condemnation is in full force. Unbelief is the symptom of eternal death. There is nothing but death to be expected where this continues; no hope of eternal life for him who continues in unbelief. He is dead while he lives; in hell while on earth. This being so, it concerns us to know what it is to believe. Faith comprises-
1. Knowledge. If knowledge be not faith, yet there can be no faith without knowledge. Blind faith is good for nothing but to lead people into the ditch. That ignorance is the mother of devotion is one of the principles of the father of lies. Rather, it is the nurse of unbelief. The first step to conversion is to open the eyes, to scatter darkness (Acts 26:18). The first thing God produces in the soul, as in the natural creation, is light. The convert must have a competent knowledge of the mysteries of the gospel-a knowledge more distinct, more convincing, more affecting, than that which he had in the state of unbelief.
2. Assent. As to the principles of the doctrine of Christ, so especially to the following truths.
(1) That he needs a Saviour. Scripture declares this upon three grounds-
(a) the sinfulness of a natural man;
(b) his misery;
(c) his inability to free himself from it.
(2) That Christ is the only all-sufficient Saviour.
3. Reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Not to believe Him, but to believe on Him (Acts 19:4; Romans 9:33; Galatians 3:24; Ephesians 1:15; etc.)
Not to give credit to, but to rely on Him. This is the essence, the formality of saving faith. There cannot be justifying faith without knowledge and assent, though there may he knowledge and assent without it; these are as the body to faith, this relying is the soul; without this, knowledge and assent are but a carcase. The devils and hypocrites may have more knowledge, and they may have as firm an assent, but this act is above their reach, and they never attain it. (Bishop Horne.)
The nature of faith
1. To believe is to come to Christ; to betake ourselves to Him. In Hebrews 10:22, we are exhorted to come with full sail, with all haste, as a ship when it makes all its sail. There is no sanctuary for a guilty soul but Christ only; therefore the sinner must fly to the tabernacle of the Lord, and take hold of the horns of the altar.
2. To believe in Christ is to lean upon Him, to stay and rest on Him. None but Christ can stay the sinner’s soul from falling into everlasting burnings.
3. To believe in Christ is to adhere to him, to cleave to Him, cling about Him. A man that has suffered shipwreck is left to the mercy of the waves; has nothing in his reach to save him but some plank or mast. How will he cling to it! how fast will he clasp! He will hold it as if it were his life (2 Kings 18:5; Deuteronomy 4:4). So Christ is our only security.
4. To believe in Christ is to roll, to cast ourselves upon Him (Psalms 22:8; Psalms 37:5; Psalms 55:23). Sin is a heavy, a most grievous burden (Amos 2:13). The weight of sin, though Christ had none of His own, made Him sweat blood. It is burdened with the wrath and heavy indignation of God; it is clogged with the curses and threatenings of the law. No wonder if one sin be as a millstone about the neck of the soul, able to sink it into the bottom of hell. But though so burdensome, yet the sinner, before conversion, feels no weight in it. How can he, seeing he is dead? Cast rocks and mountains upon a dead man, and he feels them not. Ay, but when the Lord begins to work faith, and brings the sinner to Himself, then he feels it burdensome indeed, and groans under its weight. None can ease him but Christ; and Christ bids him Come, and lay his burden on Him. Glad tidings these; the sinner closes with Christ, rolls himself, casts his burdened soul upon Him, and so believes.
5. To believe in Christ is to apply Him. It is an intimate application, such as that of meat and drink by one pinched with hunger and fainting with thirst (John 6:51-56). Nothing can save the soul, but a draught of the water of life, a taste of Christ.
6. To believe in Christ is to receive Him. A condemned person upon the scaffold, all the instruments of death ready, and nothing wanting but one blow to separate soul and body, while he is possessed with sad apprehensions of death one unexpectedly comes and brings him a pardon. Oh, how will his heart welcome it! How will his hands receive it, as though his soul were in his hands! So here.
7. To believe in Christ is to apprehend Him, to lay hold of Him, to embrace Him. As in the case of Peter walking on the water to come to Christ: so, to walk in the ways of sin, is to walk as it were upon the waters; there is no sure footing, how bold soever sinners are to venture. If God’s patience were not infinite, we should sink every moment. The sensible sinner begins to see his danger, patience will ere long withdraw, it will not be always abused; a tempest of wrath will arise; nay, he finds it grow boisterous, it does already ruffle his conscience, he is as sure to sink as if he were walking upon the waves. Nay, he feels his soul already sinking; no wonder if he cry out as a lost man, as one ready to be swallowed up in a sea of wrath. But now Christ stretches out His hand in the gospel, and the soul stretches itself out and lays hold on the everlasting arm which alone can save it. This may be sufficient to discover the nature of faith. But for farther evidence, observe what is included in it, as appears by what has gone before.
(1) A sense of misery. It is a sensible dependence, therefore more than simple assent. A man who has read or heard much of the sad effects of war, may assent, believe that it is a great misery to be infected with war. Ay, but when the enemy is at his door, when they are driving his cattle and plundering his goods and firing his houses, he not only assents to it, he sees, he feels the miseries of it; he has more sensible, more affecting apprehensions of it than ever before. So a sinner who continues in unbelief, hearing the threatenings and wrath denounced against unbelievers, may assent to the statement that unbelievers are in a miserable condition; but when the Lord is working faith, he brings this home to himself, he sees justice ready to seize on him, he feels wrath kindling upon him. He now not only believes it, but has a quick sense of it.
(2) A rejecting of other supports. Dependence upon Christ alone. When the soul, feeling the flame of wrath kindling upon her, cries out as one already perishing, “None but Christ, none but Christ,” then he is on the highway to faith. But alas! so averse are we, naturally, to Christ, that He is the last thing a sinner looks after. Till he apprehend himself as an orphan, without strength, without counsel, all his supports dead which were a father to him, he will not betake himself to Christ as his only guardian; till he thus betakes himself to Christ, he believes not.
(3) Submission. Faith is a very submissive grace. Sin and wrath lie so heavy, that the soul bends itself gladly to whatever the Lord will. If the shipwrecked man can get to shore, can save himself from drowning, he regards not the wetting of his clothes, the spoiling of his goods; a greater matter is in danger. So it is with a sinner in whom faith is working. His soul is in a sea of wrath, and he is ready to sink. If he can but reach Christ, get to shore, he is content, though he come there naked, stripped of all that was otherwise dear to him.
(4) Resolution to persist in his dependence. When Satan or his own guilty soul tells him that he must come forth, there is no mercy for such a traitor, such a heinous offender; nay, says the believing soul, but if I must die, I will die here; if justice smite me, it shall smite me with Christ in my arms; though He kill me, yet will I rely on Him; here will I live or here will I die; I will not quit my hold, though I die for it.
(5) Support. He is on the Rock of Ages; he who stays on Him stands firm; he cannot but have some support for the present, though he has little confidence, no assurance.
(6) A consent to accept Christ on His own terms. The will is naturally closed against Christ, but consent opens it; and when the will is open to receive Him, it always receives Him; when it opens, it consents; when it consents, it receives, i.e., believes. (Bishop Horne.)
The misery of unbelievers
A dreadful representation of this here.
1. The unbeliever is without Christ, the fountain of life. His heart is the habitation of the devil. He has no rights in Christ. Nothing to do with the righteousness of Christ. Nor with the intercession of Christ. No life in him.
2. He is without the covenant, the evidence of life. The promises are not for him. Nothing is sealed to him but condemnation.
3. Without grace, the beginning of life. How finely soever the sepulchre is painted and beautified without, if faith be not within there is nothing but dead bones and rottenness; nothing but what is as loathsome in the eye of God as the rottenness of a dead carcase is to us.
4. He has no title to heaven, which is eternal life.
5. He is far from life; so far as never to come in sight of it, never see it.
6. The wrath of God abides on him.
(1) Wrath. Not anger or displeasure merely, though that were dreadful; but wrath-sublimated anger, anger blown up into a terrible flame. A consuming fire, the furnace made seven times hotter (Isaiah 33:14).
(2) The wrath of God. The wrath of all the kings of the earth and all the angels of heaven put together is as nothing compared with this. Theirs would but be as the breath of one’s nostrils; whereas the wrath of God is as a whirlwind that rends the rocks, and tears up the mountains, and shakes the foundations of the earth, and shrivels up the heavens like a scroll, and causes the whole fabric of heaven and earth to stagger like a drunken man. Oh, who knows the power of His wrath! Their wrath is but like a spark; His wrath is like a river, a sea of kindled brimstone. This wrath of God will be thy portion if thou believe not.
(3) It is the wrath of God on him. Not near, or coming towards, but on him. Not that all the wrath of God is on him already, for there are vials of wrath that will never be emptied, never emptier, though the Lord be pouring them forth to all eternity. It is compared to a river which is continually running; and when it has run some hundred years, there is as much to come as if there were none run by already; it will run on thee to eternity, unless by believing thou stop it, divert the course of it in time. The first fruits of wrath are reaped now, but a full harvest is coming; and the longer thou continuest in unbelief, the riper thou art for that dreadful harvest.
(4) It is abiding wrath. Not on and off, but always on without intermission. On him in every place, in every state, in every enjoyment, in every undertaking. (Bishop Horne.)
The difficulty of faith
Some have an idea that faith is a business of no great difficulty. They wonder why any should make such ado about believing: they think it an easy thing to believe, and so trouble not themselves much about it, do not make it their business to look after it. Those who think thus show plainly that they never did believe, that they do not so much as know what it is to believe.
1. Faith is the gift of God. Not the work of man’s hand, or head, or heart. Something without him, not in him naturally; something above him, out of the reach of nature. It must be reached down by the hand of God, or man can never come by it. Not a gift of nature, but of grace.
2. Man is naturally unwilling to receive it (John 5:40). Coming is believing, but men refuse to come.
3. This opposition is so strong that it requires an exceeding mighty power to overcome it. The power of nature cannot master it, but only the power of Divine grace put forth in a special manner for this very purpose. Such a power is required to raise sinners cut of the grave of unbelief, as was requisite to raise Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). (Bishop Horne.)
Wesley’s improvement of infant baptism
Wesley’s teaching on this subject is instructive. He recommends to us all, and enjoins upon us all, to follow the example of Philip Henry. He had a method of improving infant baptism, superior to that of most divines, and decidedly better than I have at any time met with. He drew out what he called a form of the Baptismal Covenant, “I take God the Father to be my Father; I take God the Son to be my Saviour; I take God the Holy Ghost to be my Comforter, Teacher, Guide, and Sanctifier; I take the Word of God to be the rule of my actions; I take the people of God to be my people in all conditions: and all this I do deliberately, freely, and forever.” He taught all his children to say this to him every Sunday night: when they were able to write, he made every one of them write it, and sign it. “Now,” he said, “I shall keep this as a testimony against you.” And he did keep it. And there is found among his papers one of the most affecting documents in the English language-a copy of this covenant, signed by each of his children in succession. But he never had to produce it against them. By God’s grace, they kept it; and thus verified his own frequent adage, “Fast bind, fast find.” (Dr. Osborn.)
You remember that fearful shipwreck of the steamer Atlantic, which took place some years ago on the coast of Halifax. Hundreds of lives were lost, and dreadful scenes were witnessed on that occasion. Among the passengers on board that steamer was a merchant from Boston, who was a Christian man. When his family heard of the wreck they were in great distress. How anxiously they waited to hear from him! How eagerly they examined the newspapers, and read over the list of the lost to see if his name was among them! But God ordered it so that this gentleman was permitted to get safe to shore. As soon as he could reach the telegraph office he sent a telegram home to his family. There was but a single word in that telegram; but, O, it was worth more to his distressed family than all the world. It was the word Saved. And when that merchant returned home, he had that telegram framed, and hung up in his office with that important word-Saved-in it, so that he might see it every day, and be reminded of God’s great goodness in sparing his life. Yet it was only that merchant’s body that was saved then. And this is nothing compared to the soul. But when we become the sheep of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, He engages to save our souls in heaven forever. (Dr. Talmage.)
The sin of unbelief
One is sometimes asked, What is the use of preaching about infidelity in church? So that all may be able to give an intelligent explanation of their grounds for belief, to any who demand it of them. We cannot fail to notice that religion is, in our day, more generally and freely discussed than it has been for some preceding generations; and so long as this is done in an honest, thoughtful, truth seeking, kindly spirit, we may be thankful and hope.
I. What are the causes of unbelief?
1. A wrong bias in the heart. Ever since the Fall, it has been natural for us to dislike religion, and to shirk its obligations if possible. Satan persuades us that his service is the easiest, and pays the best; so we prefer it.
2. The power of things seen over the natural man. The novel and the newspaper interest us more than the Bible: we neglect the latter: and then comes the suggestion, Perhaps the Bible is not God’s book after all, etc.
3. Selfishness. Religion thwarts, opposes, reproves; so we naturally hate it.
4. Pride-desiring the praises of men rather than the favour of God, and exalting itself against His revealed will. Does not the pride of intellect say, “I will not believe what I cannot understand. I am much too clever to take things on hearsay: give me facts and proof.” And does not the pride of society, money, health, high spirits, exalt itself against the spirit of Christianity, and refuse to believe that God is no respecter of persons.
5. Fear of the world. Young people, especially, find it very hard in society, or in an irreligious home, always to stand up for truth and God. Ridicule possesses a cruel and often fatal power: if those exposed to it do not pray for strength to resist, it will overcome them little by little: the pain which they feel, the shame which is a glory and grace, which troubles them when they hear sacred things lightly spoken of, will gradually cease; their spiritual sight will lose its keenness: the ears of the soul will become dull of hearing; and they will learn at last to mistake the false for the true, and to enjoy that which once they despised and abhorred.
6. The false notion that religion is impracticable.
7. Evil lives of professing Christians. Remember, as to this, the question is not whether men or women calling themselves Christians are honest or hypocritical, but whether Christianity is true. Do you take care not to behave so inconsistently as to cause any brother to offend.
II. The result of unbelief. As the causes of unbelief are contemptible, so the process is miserable, and the result is vile. In most cases, before a man can be an infidel, he must set himself against the witness of history, and his forefathers’ faith; he must regard as lies the lessons of his childhood, and must erase from his memory the prayers learnt at his mother’s knee; he must teach himself to regard those cravings for happiness, for life, for beauty, and for truth, as fond and hopeless desires; he must learn to feel, when his father or mother, wife or child, dies, “there is an end of everything, we shall meet no more.” And when he has surrendered himself wholly into the power of God’s enemy, what sort of a creature is the devil’s masterpiece, after all?
1. See the result in communities. Look at him, first, with full scope to do his best and worst; give him multitudes of companions, who think as he thinks, and place a great city in his power. Look at infidel Paris, in our days, shooting down an archbishop in her streets. What follows?-fire, and sword, and famine-defeat, and degradation, and death. Would the result be different, do you suppose, in our land, if all were permitted to do what seems right in their own eyes-would life or property be safe?
2. Or look at the individual man. Who would trust an infidel? Who would make him a guardian or trustee? What motive has he to keep him from betraying his trust? Follow him to the end. His heart may grow harder, his assertions of unbelief may be louder; but what of him when his health and strength begin to fail? It was easy, when spirits were high, to say that clever profanity to applauding friends, easy to sneer at Church and Bible, to raise the ringing laughter of his boon companions; but what are his thoughts, now that he must spend long dreary days and nights alone,-alone, for his old mates are not the men to seek the society of the aged, or to watch by the sick; what if he should discover that he has not, after all, become that which he tried to be, and thought that he was, an infidel?
III. The cure for unbelief. The treatment must vary with the case. For some, books of evidence, appeals to history, logical reasoning, close analogies. But here are some golden rules, applicable to all.
1. Go home and do your duty. Never mind how mean the work is: the lower your place here, the higher it may be hereafter.
3. Study the Scriptures.
4. Seek Christ in the humble, teachable spirit He has promised to bless.
5. Seek Him in His children, His poor, His sick. (S. R. Hole, M. A.)
Believing and salvation
There is no way under heaven to be interested in Christ, but by believing. He that believeth shall be saved, let his sins be ever so great; and he that believeth not shall be damned, let his sins be ever so little. (Thos. Brooks.)
Destiny determined by belief
There is the way of salvation, and thou must trust Christ or perish; and there is nothing hard in it that thou shouldst perish if thou dost not. Here is a man out at sea; he has got a chart which, if well studied, will, with the help of the compass, guide him to his journey’s end. The pole star gleams out amidst the cloud rifts, and that too will help him. “No,” says he, “I will have nothing to do with your stars; I do not believe in the North Pole; I shall not attend to that little thing inside the box; one needle is as good as another needle; I do not believe in your rubbish, and I will have nothing to do with it; it is only a lot of nonsense got up by people on purpose to make money, and I will have nothing to do with it.” The man does not get to shore anywhere; he drifts about, but never reaches port, and he says it is a very hard thing. I do not think so. Some of you say, “Well, I am not going to read your Bible; I am not going to listen to your talk about Jesus Christ; I do not believe in such things.” You will be damned then, sir. “That’s very hard,” say you. No it is not. It is not more so than the fact that if you reject the compass and the pole star you will not get to your journey’s end. If a man will not do the thing that is necessary to a certain end, I do not see how he can expect to gain that end. You have taken poison, and the physician brings an antidote, and says, “Take it quickly, or you will die; but if you take it quickly I will guarantee that the poison will be neutralized.” But you say, “No, doctor, I do not believe it; let everything take its course; let every tub stand on its own bottom; I will have nothing to do with you, doctor.” “Well, sir, you will die; and when the coroner’s inquest is held on your body, the verdict will be, ‘Served him right!’” So will it be with you if, having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, you say, “Oh! pooh, pooh! I am too much of a common sense man to have anything to do with that, and I shall not attend to it.” Then, when you perish, the verdict given by your conscience, which will sit upon the King’s quest at last, will be a verdict of felo-de-se-he destroyed himself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Rejection of grace
A man being sick and like to die, the physician, knowing his case, takes with him some preservative to comfort him, and coming to the door falls a-knocking. Now, if he either will not or be not able to let him in, he must of necessity perish, and the cause cannot properly lie at the physician’s door, who was ready and willing to relieve him; but in himself, that is not willing to be relieved. Thus it is that sin is a disease whereof we are all sick. We have all sinned. Now, Christ is the great Physician of our souls; He came down formerly from heaven on purpose to heal us, and He comes down daily to the door of our hearts, and there He knocks. If we but open the door of our hearts, He will come in and sup with us, as He did with Mary, and forgive all our sins; but if we will not let Him in, or, through long contagion of sin, be not able to let Him in, we must of necessity die in our sins; and the case is evident, not because He doth not offer grace, but because we receive it not when it is offered. (Inchinus.)
Christ’s sayings determined the destiny of all who heard them
And this peculiarity He specially pointed out as enduring forever. To have heard these sayings is to have incurred the gravest responsibility. A man ms: read the Ethics of Aristotle, and treat the reasoning with contempt without endangering his fate; but no man can read Christ’s sayings without finding saved upon one side and damned upon the other. Is this dogmatism on the part of Christ? Undoubtedly. God must be dogmatic. If God could hesitate, He would not be God. Do we stumble at the solemn words of the text? Why should we? An agriculturist says, practically, “Go ye into all the world, and say to every creature that there is a particular season for sowing seed: he that believeth shall be saved-shall have a harvest; he that believeth not shall be lost-shall have no harvest.” There is a gospel of agriculture: why not a gospel of salvation? Men’s disbelief of God will damn them in farming; why not in religion? Does God speak decisively in the one case, and hesitatingly in the other? There must be a climacteric point-a point of saving or damning-in all the declarations of God, because He has spoken the ultimate word on all the subjects which He has disclosed. The truth upon any matter, high or low, is the point of salvation or damnation. The man who merely points out the right road to a traveller is in a position (with proper modification of the terms) to say to that traveller, “He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned:” in other words, “Go thus, and you will reach the object of your journey; but go so, and you will never reach it.” This is the position which Christ assumes,-“He that believeth Me hath life; he that believeth not Me hath not life.” Is such a projection of His personality consistent with His being imply one who spoke with the authoritative tone and earnestness of a Jew? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Difference between penalty and consequence
It must not be forgotten that there is a broad distinction between a penalty and a consequence, as those terms are commonly understood. When Christ said, “He that believeth not shall be damned,” He announced a consequence. He did not threaten a penalty in the usual acceptation of the term. A consequence is the direct and inevitable result of certain processes, partaking of their very nature, and inseparable from them; but a penalty may possibly be something different, something arbitrarily superadded, regardless of adaptation or measure. Being chilled is a consequence of exposure to cold air, but being flogged for such exposure is a penalty. Eternal punishment is the consequence of rejecting the gospel, not a penalty (in the low sense of revenge) attached to a crime. (J. Parker, 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-albeit it puts the meat into thy mouth, but it is the meat carried into the stomach that feeds thee. So if thou canst grip Christ ever so weakly, He will not let thee perish. All that looked to the brazen serpent, ever so far off, they were healed of the sting of the fiery serpent, yet all saw not alike clearly, for some were near at hand, and some were far off. Those that were near at hand might see more clearly than those that were far off; nevertheless, those that were far off were as soon healed of the sting, when they looked to the serpent, as those that were near at hand; for it was not their look that made them whole, but He whom the serpent did represent. So if thou canst look to Christ ever so meanly, He can take away the sting of thy conscience, if thou believest; the weakest hands can take a gift, as well as the strongest. Now Christ is this gift, and weak faith may grip Him as well as strong faith, and Christ is as truly thine when thou hast weak faith, as when thou hast come to those triumphant joys through the strength of faith. (Welsh.)
A sailor’s definition of faith
A sailor who had been brought to trust in Christ for salvation, meeting a friend who was anxious to find rest for his soul, addressed him thus: “It was just so with myself once; I did not know what faith was, or how to obtain it; but I know now what it is, and I believe I possess it. I do not know that I can tell you what it is, or how to get it; but I can tell you what it is not; it is not knocking off swearing, and drinking, and such like; and it is not reading the Bible, nor praying, nor being good; it is none of these; for even if they would answer for the time to come, there is the old score still,-and how are you to get clear of that? It is not anything you have done, or can do; it is believing and trusting what Christ has done; then it is forsaking your sins, and looking for their pardon and the salvation of your soul, because He died and shed His blood for sin: it is that, and it is nothing else.” Where could we find a mere simple, and accurate, and telling definition of faith?
A good man was considerably harassed as to the nature of true faith, so resolved to ask the assistance of his minister. Going to the minister’s house, he stated that his fears had been great, that he had sinned beyond the reach of mercy; but that, while he was thinking on the subject, there was suggested to his mind this text of Scripture, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin,” and that resting on this truth he had lost all his anxiety. The minister told him that this was nothing else than true faith.
It may be asked how it can be just in God to condemn men forever for not believing the gospel. I answer:
1. God has a right to appoint His own terms of mercy.
2. Man has no claim on Him for heaven.
3. The sinner rejects the terms of salvation knowingly, deliberately, and perseveringly.
4. He has a special disregard and contempt for the gospel.
5. His unbelief is produced by the love of sin.
6. He shows by this that he has no love of God, and His law, and for eternity.
7. He slights the objects dearest to God, and most like Him.
8. He must, therefore, be miserable.
He rejects God, and must go into eternity without a Father, etc. And he has no comfort in himself, and must die forever. There is no being in eternity but God that can make man happy; and without His favour the sinner must be wretched. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The perils of unbelief
This is speaking out plainly. He who thus spoke, had a right so to speak. To be a believer, as scripturally understood, is to give that kind of credit to Christianity, which is associated with, and supported by, a holy life,-not the faith right, and the life wrong; but the life and faith both in the right. We proceed, now, to show-
I. That Christianity presents sufficient evidence to warrant rational belief. The evidences which she has at her service may be presented in the form of answers to inquiries which may be instituted. Thus-
1. Was Christianity necessary? Could not the world have done without it? These questions we negative most emphatically. It could not. It had tried, etc.
2. Was such a revelation as that which Christianity professes to be possible? Certainly.
3. Was it probable? It was.
4. Is that which was quite possible, and very probable, now a reality-a fact? Has there ever been such a person as Jesus Christ? Did He do what He is said to have done? Our answer is in the affirmative. There are no facts that are better attested than those which relate to the history of the Author of the Christian religion.
5. Are any books now extant purporting to contain sketches of His life, and an account of the rise of His religion; and, if so, are there arguments sufficient to evidence their genuineness, and uncorrupted preservation? Our reply again is a positive one.
6. Is the Divine origin of Christianity indicated by its success, and the circumstances with which that success was associated? It is, etc.
7. Is there any evidence of the Divinity of Christ’s religion from human consciousness and experience? There is.
II. That the man who does not diligently search for, and cordially yield to, this evidence is highly censurable. Man is responsible for his belief. This will appear from the consideration that our belief is mainly influenced by the following circumstances:-
1. By the books which we read.
2. The company we keep.
3. The latitude we allow to our likings, irrespective of their nature or tendency.
As the religion of Christ presents to man sufficient proofs to warrant his credence, then, if that be refused, the results will be inconceivably perilous. “He that believeth not shall be condemned.” This supposes a trial, and a sentence. (J. Guttridge.)
Salvation through believing
I. Consider the importance of this declaration.
1. Because of the character of the Being who has given it. He is God; therefore He has power to perform what He has said.
2. None can escape His scrutiny, as He is all wise and omnipotent.
3. The declaration remains unchangeable forever, as He is a Being who possesses the attribute of truth.
II. Explain the grounds of which sinners are to be saved.
1. Faith in Christ is necessary to salvation.
2. Baptism is necessary.
III. The awful consequence of not believing.
1. If we do not believe, we remain in sin.
2. Guilt and misery of mind arise from this condition.
3. Temporal punishment in this life is also the result. Wherever the gospel of Christ is received in the love of it, there will be stability of principle, and an inculcation of purity of morals; where it is absent there will be, in a less or greater degree, an entire want of its holy effects. Intemperance produces sickness; extravagance leads to poverty, etc.
4. Our not believing will have an evil effect on society at large.
5. Eternal torment.
IV. The blessed effects of believing.
1. Deliverance from condemnation.
2. Emancipation from the dominion of sin.
3. Salvation from the fear of death and hell.
4. In proportion as our faith becomes strong, our spiritual wisdom will increase, as well as our happiness. (W. Blood.)
The indissoluble connection between faith and salvation
In order to illustrate this subject-consider-
I. What is faith?
1. The real Christian believes the pure unadulterated gospel; the substance of which is, “God is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The ground on which he believes, is the testimony of God (1 John 5:10).
2. The gospel which be thus believes he believes to be most important. It rouses his attention and calls all the powers of his soul to action. Like a man whose house is on fire, and is at his wit’s end till he has found means to extinguish it-or like one who has a large estate depending, and uses every effort to get his title confirmed.
3. This belief in the gospel is accompanied with a cordial approbation of its gracious proposals. We have heard the gospel. Have we believed it? Have we received it in the love of it? Are our hearts and lives influenced by it?
II. The salvation promised to them that believe. Here a scene the most delightful and transporting opens to our view. A scene, the contemplation of which fills the Christian with admiration and wonder.
1. It is a salvation from moral evil.
2. From natural evil.
3. From penal evidences (Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:13). To these miseries are to be opposed the joys of heaven, but, oh! what tongue can describe (Psalms 16:11).
III. The connection between faith and salvation. It is necessary in order to our being saved that we believe.
1. It is the Divine appointment (John 3:16; Mark 16:16). It is not a mere arbitrary command, but the result of infinite wisdom and goodness.
2. There is a fitness or suitableness in faith to the end of its appointment, so that the necessity arises out of the nature of things. The blessing of the gospel cannot be enjoyed without the medium of faith. Sin is atoned for-heaven opened-but the actual possession of the good thus procured is as necessary as a title to it. How is that good to be possessed without a suitable temper? How is this to be acquired but by believing? (Outlines of Sermons.)
And these signs shall follow.
New, because strange to the natural man, because acquired not by nature, but by grace. As the world of old was divided by the confusion of tongues, so by the renewing of our nature, and by the oneness of our speech, shall all be united into one people, having one heart and one seal. This new tongue must be given as the special gift of God to His children, for the tongue can no man tame of himself. This new tongue we have if-
(1) in the midst of adversity we refrain from murmuring, and are able to submit truly to the will of God, rendering Him thanks even in the midst of our sufferings;
(2) we can make full and unreserved confession of our sins to God, without seeking to excuse ourselves in His sight;
(3) we restrain ourselves from the censure of others, and use our tongue for the edification of our brethren. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Disappearance of miraculous powers accounted for
Probably God’s sliding scale-by which supernatural aid increases and decreases inversely according to our strength-may explain how, in the course of time, the supernatural aids of the Church have merged into the more ordinary aids of grace. (R. Glover.)
Christ’s presence in the Church continual
The cooperation of Christ was promised, not for the apostolic age alone, but for all time. The miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost were withdrawn, and the third generation, at the latest, buried the last of “The Twelve;” but other men entered into their labours, and the office has been perpetuated by an unbroken lineage, so that those who minister in Christ’s Church today can feel that the voice which sent them forth was but the echo of that which spake on the Galilean hill to the first in the ministerial line. That Presence, which arrested the attention of an unbelieving age by startling manifestations, has been vouchsafed to the Church through all its chequered history in the power of an unseen but undiminished cooperation. In the Church at large it is borne witness to by the influence of Christianity upon the evil spirits of oppression and cruelty, of greed and profligate living. It has shown itself in a thousand ways in the alleviation of sickness and disease, and the tenderer care for the bereft of reason; while in a later age at least, the Pentecostal gift of tongues has been virtually repeated, by the translation of the gospel of glad tidings into well-nigh every spoken language. (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)
They shall take up serpents.
The privileges of believers
It is to men who believe, through their belief, that privileges such as these are to be given. The essence and ground of the promised power is faith. That old word, Faith! That old thing, Faith! How men have stumbled over its definition, and bewildered and ensnarled themselves and those who heard them! God forbid that I should bewilder you today. I want to be as clear and simple as I can; and though I would be far from disparaging any of the subtler and more elaborate descriptions of what faith is, I am sure that we may give ourselves a definition which is true beyond all doubt, and which is full enough to answer all the need of definition which we shall meet today. Faith, then, personal faith, is this, the power by which one being’s vitality, through love and obedience, becomes the vitality of another being. Simple enough that is, I am sure, for any man who will think. I believe in you, my friend; and your vitality, your character, your energy, the more I love and obey you, passes over into me. The saint believes in his pattern saint, the soldier believes in his brave captain, the scholar believes in his learned teacher. In every ease the vitality of the object of faith comes through love and obedience to the believer. Faith is not love nor obedience, but it works by both. A man may love me and yet not have faith in me. A man may obey me, and yet not have faith in me. Faith is a distinct relation between soul and soul; but it is recognizable by this result, that the life of one soul becomes the life of another soul through obedience and love. Now faith in Christ, what is it? Just in the same simple way, it is that power by which the vitality of Christ, through our love and obedience to Him, becomes our vitality. The triumph of the believing soul is this, that he does not live by himself; that into him is ever flowing, by a law which is both natural and supernatural, a law that is supernatural only because it is the consummation and transfiguration of the most natural of all laws-there is always flowing into him the vitality of the Christ whom he loves and obeys. His whole nature beats with the inflow of that Divine life. He lives, but Christ lives in Him. And then add one thing more. That this vitality of Christ, which comes into a man by faith, is not a strange and foreign thing. Christ is the Son of Man, the perfect Man, the Divine Man. Add this, and then we know that His vitality filling us is the perfection of human life filling humanity. “They that believe” are not men turned into something else than men by the mixture of a new and strange Divine ingredient. They are men in whom human life is perfect in proportion to the completeness of their faith through the Son of Man. They are men raised to the highest power. The man in whom Christ dwells by faith is the man in whom the Divine ideal of human life is perfect, or is steadily becoming perfect, by the entrance into him of the perfect life of the Man Christ Jesus, through obedience and love. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The promise to believers
These signs shall follow them that believe, them that have the complete human life by me-Christ says, “If they drink,” etc. Is that a prize? Is it wages which is offered for a certain meritorious act, which is called faith? Not so, surely! It is a consequence. It is a necessity. Safety and helpfulness. These come out of the full life of Christ in the soul of man as the inevitable fruits. Safety, so that what hurts other men shall not hurt him. Helpfulness, so that his brethren about him shall live by his life. These are the utterances of the vitality of him who is thoroughly alive. It is by life, by full, vigorous, emphatic existence that men are safe in this world, and that they save other men from death. Men everywhere are trying to be safe by stifling life; by living just as low as possible. Men everywhere are trying not to do one another harm, trying to spare each other’s souls by tender petting, by guarding them against any vigorous contact with life and thought. “Not so,” says the Bible. “Only by the fulness of life does safety come. Only by the power of contact with life are sick and helpless souls made whole. None but the live man saves himself or quickens the dead to life, saves himself or saves his neighbour.” It is a noble assertion. The whole Bible, from its first page to its last, is full of the assertion of the fundamental necessity of vitality; that the first thing which a man needs in order to live well, is to live. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The safety of faith
Let us consider the safety which Christ offers. It is a safety not by the avoidance of deadly things, but by the neutralizing of them through a higher and stronger power. There is no such idle promise as that if a man believes in Christ a wall shall be built around his soul, so that the things out of which souls make sin cannot come to Him. The Master knew the world too well for that. His own experience on the hill of His temptation was still fresh in His memory. He knew that life meant exposure, that sin must surely beat at every one of these hearts. Nay, that the things out of which sin is made, temptation, moral trial, must enter into every heart; and so He said not, “I will lead you through secluded ways where none but sweet and healthy waters flow,” but, “Where I lead you, there will be the streams of poison. Only if you have the vitality which comes by faith in Me, your life shall be stronger than the poison’s death. If you drink any deadly thing it shall not harm you”….Only those temptations which we encounter on the way of duty, in the path of consecration, only those has our Lord promised us that we shall conquer. He sends us out to live and work for Him. The chances of sin which we meet while that Divine design of life, the life and work for Him, is clear before us, shall not hurt us. When we forget that design, our arm withers, our immunity is gone. It is only when we are about some higher task, only when they meet us as accidents in the service of Christ, that we have a right deliberately to encounter temptation and the chance to sin, and may claim the Lord’s promise of immunity. Think in how many places that law applies. Have I a right to read this sceptical book-this hook in which some able, witty man has gathered all his skill against my Christian faith? It is a book of poison. Have I a right to drink it? Who can say absolutely yes or no? Who does not feel that it depends upon what sort of life the reader brings to meet the poison? If in your soul there is a passionate desire for truth, if you do really love and serve Christ, and want to know Him better, that you may love and serve him more, if this book comes as a help to that part of a study by which you shall get nearer to the heart of the truth and Him, then if you drink that deadly thing it shall not harm you. Nay, you may rise up from the reading with a faith more deep. Whatever change your faith may undergo, it shall win a profounder life. But if there is no such earnestness, no such life as this, if it is mere curiosity, mere desire to be fine and liberal, mere defiance, a mere wantonness, then the poison has it all its own way; there is no vigorous life to meet it; and its death spreads through the nature till it finds the heart … And so it is everywhere with all exposure of the spiritual life. “What took you there?” “What right had you to be there?” These are the critical questions on which everything depends. If you are passing through temptation with your eye fixed on a pure, true life beyond it, temptation being only a necessary stage upon your way, so long as you keep that purpose, that resolution, that ideal, you shall be safe. If you are in temptation for temptation’s sake, with no purpose beyond it, you are lost. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The helpfulness of faith
Not only is the man of faith promised safety for himself, but that he shall be helpful to others too. These two things-safety and helpfulness-go together, not merely in this special promise of the Saviour, but in all life. So is the whole world bound into a whole, so does the good that comes to any man tend to diffuse itself and touch the lives of all, that these two things are true. First, that no man can be really safe, really secure that the world shall not harm and poison him, unless there is going out from him a living and life-giving influence to other men. And second, that no man is really helping other men unless there is true life in his own soul. No man can really save another unless he saves himself. It is the good man by his good deeds that gives life to the world. Always it is the living, not the dead, who give life. It is the man not who has sinned deeply, but who has known by intense sympathy what sin is, how strong, how terrible, and yet escaped it for himself,-he is the man who helps the sinners most; he is the anointed who carries on and carries round the Christ’s salvation. In their deepest need the wickedest men look to the purest men they know; the deadest to the livest; first to those who they think have most escaped sin, then to those who they think have been most cleansed of sin by repentance and forgiveness. Here is a man in whom I know that the promise of Christ is certainly fulfilled. He is a believer, and through his open faith the life of Christ flows into him constantly, and is his life. Full of that life, he gives it everywhere he goes. The sick in soul touch his soul and are well again. The discouraged find new bravery; the yielding souls are clad anew with firmness. The frivolous grow serious, the mean are stung or tempted into generosity, and sinners hate their sin and crave a better life, wherever this man goes. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The secret of the believer’s helpfulness
The power of these life-giving lives seems to be described in these two words-testimony and transmission.
I. The testimony which they bear by the very fact of their own abundant life. They show the presence, they assert the possibility of vitality. Very often this is what souls whose spiritual life is weak and low need to have done for them. Men half alive grow to doubt of the fuller life in anybody. Men try to realize the descriptions of religion which they hear, and, falling short of them, they grow ready to believe that religion is a thing of excited imaginations, and to give up all thought of making it real in themselves. It is not only the badness in the world, it is the dreadful incredulity of good, it is the despair and lack of struggle which tells how low ebbs out the tide of spiritual life. Then comes the man in whom spiritual life is a real, deep, strong, positive thing. The first work which that man does is to bear the simple testimony of his life that life is possible. Already, just in acknowledgement of that, the sick faces begin to revive, and the sick eyes look up to him. The brave and godly boy among a group of boys just learning to be proud of godlessness and contemptuousness of piety-the man of golden principles among the sceptics of the street-the one true penitent rejoicing in a new and certain hope out of the ranks of flagrant sin-these instantly, the moment that they begin to live, begin to bear their testimony of life, and so make life about them.
II. Transmission. The highest statement of the culture of a human nature and of the best attainment that is set before it, is that, as it grows better, it grows more transparent and more simple, more capable therefore of simply and truly transmitting the life and will of God which is behind it. The thought of a man, as he improves and strengthens, getting the control of his own powers, and becoming more and more a source of power over other men, this thought, which has doubtless its own degree of truth, is limited and vulgar beside the breadth and fineness of the other idea, that as a man is trained and cultured, as the various events of life create their changes in him, as tempests beat him and sunshine bathes him, as he wrestles with temptation and yields to grace, as he goes on through the springtime, the summer, and the autumn of his life, the one highest purpose and result of it all is to beat and fuse his life into transparency, so that it can transmit the life of God. For all good is from God, and He uses our lives, all of them, to reach other men’s lives with. Only the difference is this: upon a life of sin, all hard and black, God shines as the sun shines on the black, hard marble, and by reflection thence strikes on the things around, leaving the centre of the marble itself always dark. But on a life of obedience and faith, God shines as the sun shines on a block of crystal, sending its radiance through the willing and transparent mass, and warming and lighting it all into its inmost depths. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
Signs unnecessary now
Though the miracle-working power remained in the Church after the ascension of our Lord, Christianity was made less dependent on such external signs and tokens, and more and more on the moral and spiritual power of the Word itself. With this promise compare the still more general one of Psalms 91:1-16. Such signs as are indicated here are not needed in this age, when the Divine nature of Christianity is witnessed by such historical evidences as are afforded by the moral, the religious, the social, the political, and even the commercial development which has everywhere attended on and resulted from its progress. I can hardly conceive that occasion ever can arise for the further fulfilment of this promise. Christianity is itself a greater sign than any the apostles wrought. (Abbott.)
He was received up into heaven.
The Ascension and its effects
The hidden source of the Christian’s spiritual life is with Christ in God. To Him he looks as his treasure-his treasure in heaven; thither does he endeavour in heart and mind to ascend; he sets his affections on things above; he seeks those things which are at the right hand of God, with Christ, to be dispensed by Him, according to His promise. The ascension was the great consummation of Christ’s work. Observe in this connection-
I. The period at which He ascended: after He has spoken to the apostles. He did not leave them until His prophetical work on earth was done, and He had provided for the continued application of the benefits He had secured for mankind.
II. Whence He was received: from the Mount of Olives. A favourite spot, and one hallowed by frequent communion with His Father, and close to the garden where He rendered His will to God. The valley of humiliation was changed into the mount of triumph.
III. By whom He was received: by the holy angels. What joy for them! They ushered Him into the Presence chamber of Jehovah, and there He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.
IV. The purpose for which He ascended.
1. To prepare a place for His people.
2. To rule and order all things for the glory of God.
3. To intercede for all who come to God by Him.
4. To send the Holy Spirit to dwell with His people and guide them into all the truth.
That Blessed Spirit is the true remedy for all the wants we feel, for the coldness of our hearts towards Him, for our many departures from His will, our many shortcomings and turnings aside from Him. (Bp. F. Barker, D. D.)
O happy parting, fit for the Saviour of mankind. O blessed Jesu, let me so far imitate Thee, as to depart hence with a blessing in my mouth; let my soul, when it is stepping over the threshold of heaven, leave behind it a legacy of peace and happiness.
I. From whence did He ascend? From the Mount of Olives. He might have ascended from the valley; all the globe of earth was alike to Him; but since He was to mount upward, He would take so much advantage as that stair of ground would afford Him. Since he had made hills so much nearer to heaven, He would not neglect the benefit of His Own creation. Where we have common helps, we may not depend upon supernatural provisions, we may not strain the Divine Providence to the supply of our negligence, or the humouring of our presumption. O God, teach me to bless Thee for means, when I have them; and to trust Thee for means, when I have them not; yea, to trust Thee without means, when I have no hope of them.
II. Whither did He ascend? Whither, but home into His heaven? From the mountain was He taken up; and what but heaven is above the hills? Already had He approved Himself the Lord and Commander of earth, of sea, of hell. It only remained that, as Lord of the air, He should pass through all the regions of that yielding element; and, as Lord of heaven, through all the glorious contiguations thereof. He had an everlasting right to that heaven; an undoubted possession of it ever since it was; but His human nature took not possession of it until now. O Jesu, raise Thou up my heart thither to Thee; place my affections upon Thee above, and teach me to love heaven, because Thou art there.
III. How did He ascend? As in His crucifixion and resurrection, so also in His ascension, the act was His Own, the power of it none but His. The angels did attend Thee, they did not aid Thee: whence had they their strength, but from Thee? Unlike Elias, Thou needest no chariot, no carriage of angels; Thou art the Author of life and motion; they move in and from Thee. As Thou, therefore, didst move Thyself upward, so, by the same Divine power, Thou will raise us up to the participation of Thy glory. (Bp. Joseph Hall.)
Comfort from Christ’s Ascension
O my soul, be Thou now, if ever, ravished with the contemplation of this comfortable and blessed farewell of thy Saviour. What a sight was this, how full of joyful assurance, of spiritual consolation! Methinks I see it still with their eyes, how Thou, my glorious Saviour, didst leisurely and insensibly rise up from Thine Olivet, taking leave of Thine acclaiming disciples, now left below Thee, with gracious eyes, with heavenly benedictions. Methinks I see how they followed Thee with eager and longing eyes, with arms lifted up, as if they had wished them winged, to bare soared up after Thee. And if Elijah gave assurance to his servant Elisha, that, if he should have beheld him in that rapture, his master’s spirit should be doubled upon him; what an accession of the spirit of joy and confidence must needs be to His happy disciples, in seeing Christ thus gradually rising up to His heaven! O how unwillingly did their intentive eyes let go so blessed an object! How unwelcome was that cloud that interposed itself betwixt Him and them, and, closing up itself, left only a glorious splendour behind it, as the bright track of His ascension! Of old, here below, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud; now, afar off in the sky, the cloud intercepted this heavenly glory; if distance did not rather do it than that bright meteor. Their eyes attended Him on His way so far as their beams would reach; when they could go no further, the cloud received Him. Lo, even yet that very screen, whereby He was taken off from all earthly view, was no other than glorious; how much rather do all the beholders fix their sight upon that cloud, than upon the best piece of the firmament! Never was the sun itself gazed upon with so much intention. With what long looks, with what astonished acclamations, did these transported beholders follow Thee, their ascending Saviour! As if they would have looked through that cloud, and that heaven that hid Him from them … Look not after Him, O ye weak disciples, as so departed that ye shall see Him no more; if He be gone, yet He is not lost; those heavens that received Him shall restore Him; neither can those blessed mansions decrease His glory. Ye have seen Him ascend upon the chariot of a bright cloud; and, in the clouds of heaven, ye shall see Him descend again to His last judgment. He is gone: can it trouble you to know you have an Advocate in heaven? Strive not now so much to exercise your bodily eyes in looking after Him, as the eyes of your souls in looking for Him. If it be our sorrow to part with our Saviour, yet, to part with Him into heaven, it is comfort and felicity: if His absence could be grievous, His return shall be happy and glorious. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly: in the meantime it is not heaven that can keep Thee from me; it is not earth that can keep me from Thee: raise Thou up my soul to a life of faith with Thee; let me ever enjoy Thy conversation, whilst I expect Thy return. (Bp. Joseph Hall.)
The enthroned Christ
How strangely calm and brief, this record of so stupendous an event. Something sublime in the contrast between the magnificence and almost inconceivable grandeur of the thing communicated, and the quiet words, so few, so sober, so wanting in all detail, in which it is told. The stupendous fact of Christ sitting at the right hand of God is the one that should fill the present for us all, even as the Cross should fill the past, and the coming for judgment should fill the future.
I. The exalted man. In His ascension Christ was but returning to His eternal Home; but He took with Him-what He had not had before in heaven-His humanity. It was the Everlasting Son of the Father, the Eternal Word, which from the beginning was with God and was God, that came down from heaven to earth, to declare the Father; but it was the Incarnate Word, the man Christ Jesus, who went back again. And He went as our Forerunner, to prepare a place for us, that where He is we also might be.
II. The resting Saviour. Christ rests after His cross, not because He needs repose, but in token that His work is finished, and that the Father has accepted it.
III. The interceding priest. There are deep mysteries connected with the thought of Christ’s intercession. It does not mean that the Divine heart needs to be won to love and pity; or that in any merely outward and formal fashion He pleads with God, and softens and placates the Infinite and Eternal love of the Father in the heavens. But it means that He, our Saviour and Sacrifice, is forever in the presence of God; presenting His Own Blood as an element in the Divine dealing with us; and securing, through His own merits and intercession, the outflow of blessings upon our heads and hearts.
IV. The ever-active Helper. The “right hand of God” is the omnipotent energy of God. The ascended Christ is the ubiquitous Christ. Our Brother, the Son of Man, sits ruling all things; shall we not, then, be restful and content? (A Maclaren, D. D.)
Design of Christ’s Ascension
1. To confirm the prophecies.
2. To commence His mediatorial work in heaven.
3. To send the Holy Ghost.
4. To prepare a place for His people.
He went up as our Representative, Forerunner, High Priest, and Intercessor, and as the King of Glory. (G. S. Bowes.)
Manner of Christ’s Ascension
The manner of Christ’s ascension into heaven may be said to have been an instance of Divine simplicity and sublimity combined, which scarcely has a parallel. While in the act of blessing His disciples (St. Luke 24:50-51), He was parted from them, and was carried up, and disappeared behind a cloud (Acts 1:9). There was no pomp; nothing could have been more simple. How can the followers of this Lord and Master rely on pomp and ceremony to spread His religion, when He, its Founder, gave no countenance to such appeals to the senses of men? Had some good men been consulted about the manner of the ascension, we can imagine the result. (N. Adams.)
Ascension Day, on earth and in heaven
I. On earth. Think of the marvellous day when the disciples once more followed the Lord as far as unto Bethany, now truly on His way home. All the glimpses of the forty days had pressed it upon them that, while truly the same Jesus, He was yet drawing away from them. Still loving and tender, He is hedged about with divinity that makes a king. He bends not again to wash their feet; Mary does not touch Him, John does not lie in His bosom. Nature is losing its hold on His humanity. Suddenly He comes and goes, scarce recognized at first, then quickly hailed with rapturous confidence. They see Him no longer bearing unweariness, hunger, or the contempt of men. Jew and Roman are now out of the contest. Satan dares no more assaults. He has no sighs, no tears, no nights of prayer, no agony with bloody sweat. And now as they watch, that chiefest force of matter on which the systems stand, slips away from the particles of the form He wears, and He ascends in their sight, out of their sight, until swathed in the splendour of a cloud of glory.
II. In heaven. Dare we imagine the scene? Angels unnumbered, their faces solemn with a new awe at the great work of God; the first woman beholding at last the Seed; the first man Adam, rejoicing to see his fearful work undone and the race left free to join itself to a new Head; the patriarchs no longer pilgrims; priests no longer ministering at temple and altar; prophets finding prophecy itself looking backward on fulfilment; the heroes of the Church; the babes of Bethlehem slaughtered about His cradle-can we imagine the scene as He passed through the midst of these? Did they gaze on His form, with print of thorn and nail and spear, which mark Him forever as the Lamb that hath been slain? Up He passes through the bowed ranks, among saints and elders and martyrs, the four mystical living ones, beyond the glassy sea, amid the spirit’s seven burning flames, beneath the emerald glittering bow, to that glory whose brightness jasper and sardius cannot express, and on this highest height of the supreme throne of the ineffable God, He takes His Own place. (C. M. Southgate.)
The tomb and triumph
Whenever you think of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, remember always that the background to His triumph is a tomb. Remember that it is the triumph over suffering; a triumph of One who still bears the prints of the nails in His hands and in His feet, and the wound of the spear in His side; like many a poor soul who has followed Him triumphant at last, and yet scarred and maimed in the hard battle of life. Remember forever the adorable wounds of Christ. Remember forever that St. John saw in the midst of the throne of God the likeness of a Lamb, as it had been slain. For so alone you will learn what our Lord’s resurrection and ascension are to all who have to suffer and to toil on earth. (C. Kingsley M. A.)
Christ is living now
What good would it do to you if you were suffering from some peculiar accident to a limb, and someone came and told you of a surgeon who lived a hundred years ago, and who had been wonderfully clever in resetting the same bone after that precise kind of fracture? You might feel that he would have been able and willing to relieve you from pain, and to prevent all subsequent deformity. But if you were told of some living man who had shown the same skill, and if it were explained how it was that he had acquired his special experience, and how he had succeeded in one case after another when every other surgeon was helpless, you would say, “Now I have heard all this I will send for him at once, and put myself in his hands.” This is just what men have to be persuaded to do in relation to Christ … to realize that He is living still, and that He is not only willing but able to give every man who asks of Him forgiveness of all past evil and strength to do better in time to come. (R. W. Dale D. D.)
Jesus at the right hand of God
John Bunyan was walking one day in a field, in great trouble of soul at the discovery of his own vileness, and not knowing how to be justified with God, when he beard, as he imagined, a voice saying to him, “Your righteousness is in heaven.” He went into his house and took his Bible, thinking to find there the very words that he thus sounded in his heart. He did not discover the identical expression, but many a passage of Scripture proclaimed the same truth, and showed him that Jesus, at the right hand of God, is complete righteousness to everyone that believeth. (Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)
The ascension of Christ
We cannot contemplate the characters of men who have benefited the world by the splendour of their talents or the lustre of their lives, without feeling a spirit of inquisitive solicitude to know how they finished their course, parted with their friends, and made their exit. We labour to catch the last glance of departing worth.
I. The period when Christ ascended.
1. After upbraiding His disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart.
2. After assigning to them their work.
(1) The work was to “preach the gospel,” not false doctrines, not human opinions, not Jewish ceremonies.
(2) The sphere of their operation was “all the world.”
(3) Their commission was to “every creature.” Hence we infer that the gospel is suited to the circumstances of all-designed for the benefit of all-and that the ministers of truth should aim at preaching it to all.
3. After comforting them by the promise of a miraculous influence with which they should be invested.
II. The manner.
1. Christ’s ascension was accomplished by His own eternal power.
2. It was publicly witnessed by His disciples.
3. It was hailed with transport by ministering angels. St. Luke declares that “a cloud received Him;” who can tell what amazing scenes were unfolded beyond that cloud?
III. His subsequent situation. “He sat on the right hand of God.” This signifies-
1. The honour and dignity to which our Saviour is exalted.
2. The rule and government with which He is invested (Ephesians 1:20-22; John 3:35; Matthew 11:27; Romans 8:34).
3. The tranquility and happiness of which He is possessed.
Conclusion: From this subject we learn-
1. Christ finished the work which He came upon earth to accomplish.
2. Christ has highly honoured human nature.
3. Christ is exalted for our sake (Hebrews 9:24).
This should give us confidence in our prayers, excite our emulation, and, above all, inspire our hopes. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Our Lord’s Ascension
I. The fact of the ascension. Christ was, according to His humanity, translated by the Divine power into heaven. As God, He transferred Himself, as man, thither: to sit, thenceforward, at the right band of the Majesty on high. This signifies-
1. Preeminence of dignity, power, favour, and felicity.
2. The solid ground, the firm possession, the durable continuance, the undisturbed rest and quiet, of His condition.
3. The nature, quality, and design of His preferment. He is our Ruler and Judge.
4. His glorification.
II. Confirmatory considerations.
1. Ocular testimony. The apostles witnessed Christ’s ascension.
2. Rational deduction. His arriving at the supreme pitch of glory, and sitting there, is deduced from the authority of His own word, and stands on the same ground as any other point of Christian faith and doctrine.
3. Ancient predictions.
III. The end and effect of the ascension.
1. Our Lord did ascend unto, and doth reside in, heaven, at the right hand of Divine majesty and power, that as a King He may govern us, protecting us from all danger, relieving us in all want, delivering us from all evil.
2. Our Saviour did ascend, and now sits at God’s right hand, that He may, in regard to us, there exercise His priestly function.
3. Our Lord tells us that it was necessary He should depart hence, and enter into this glorious state, that He might there exercise His prophetical office by imparting to us His Holy Spirit for our instruction, direction, assistance, and comfort.
4. Our Lord also tells us that He went to heaven to prepare a place there for His faithful servants. He has entered heaven as our Forerunner, our Harbinger, to dispose things there for our reception and entertainment.
5. It is an effect of our Lord’s ascension and glorification, that an good Christians are with Him in a sort translated into heaven, and advanced into a glorious state, being made kings and priests to God.
6. I might add that God did thus advance our Saviour, to declare the special regard He bears to piety, righteousness, and obedience, by His so amply rewarding and highly dignifying the practice thereof.
IV. Practical considerations.
1. It may serve to guard us from divers errors with regard to our Lord’s human nature. Our Lord did visibly, in human shape, ascend to heaven, and therefore He continues still a Man; and as such He abides in heaven. He is indeed everywhere by His Divinity present with us; He is also in His humanity present to our faith, memory, affection; He is therein also present by mysterious representation, by spiritual efficacy, by general inspection and influence on His Church; but in body, as we are absent from Him, so is He likewise separated from us; we must depart hence, that we may be with Him in the place whither He is gone to prepare for us.
2. Is Christ ascended and advanced to this glorious eminency at God’s right hand? Then let us answerably behave ourselves towards Him, rendering Him the honour and worship, the fear and reverence, the service and obedience, suitable and due to His state.
3. These points afford ground and matter of great joy and comfort to us. Victory over enemies; exaltation of Him who has stooped to become one with us-our Elder Brother; the possession of a Friend in so high place and so great power, etc.
4. The consideration of these things serves to cherish and strengthen all kinds of faith and hope in us. We cannot surely distrust the accomplishment of any promises declared by Him, we cannot despair of receiving any good from Him, who is ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of Divine wisdom and power, thence viewing all things done here, thence ordering all things everywhere for the advantage of those who love Him and trust in Him.
5. These points likewise serve to excite and encourage our devotion. Having such a Mediator in heaven, so good and sure a Friend at court, what should hinder us from cheerfully addressing ourselves by Him on all occasions to God?
6. It may encourage us to all kinds of obedience, to consider what a high pitch of eternal glory and dignity our Lord has obtained in regard to His obedience, and as a pledge of like recompense designed to us if we tread in His footsteps.
7. The consideration of these points should elevate our thoughts and affections from these inferior things here below unto heavenly things (Colossians 3:1). To the Head of our body we should be joined; continually deriving sense and motion, direction and activity, from Him; where the Master of our family is, there should our minds be, constantly attentive to His pleasure, and ready to serve Him; where the city is whose denizens we are, and where our final rest must be, there should our thoughts be, careful to observe the law and orders, that we may enjoy the immunities and privileges thereof; in that country where only we have any good estate or valuable concernment, there our mind should be, studying to secure and improve our interest therein; our resolution should be conformable to that of the holy Psalmist: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.” (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)
Christ’s ascension and cooperation
I. Contemplate these apostles witnessing the ascension of their Lord.
1. The place from which He ascended. Mount of Olives. Thither He had been accustomed to resort after the labours and fatigues of the day; there He had often spent a whole night in meditation and prayer; and now He Himself ascends from the same place. There His disciples had forsaken Him and fled; and there He was now parted from them, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
2. The manner in which He ascended.
(1) Visibly. His disciples were eyewitnesses of His majesty, as He rose higher and higher from the mountain, till the cloud covered Him, and concealed Him from their sight.
(2) While He was in the act of blessing.
3. The place to which He ascended. Heaven. His own home. What rejoicings at His return!
II. Contemplate the apostles going forth to preach His Gospel.
1. The subject of their preaching. The gospel of Jesus Christ-the crucified, risen, and ascended Saviour.
2. They communicated this gospel to mankind by preaching.
(1) A Divine ordinance.
(2) A speedy way of teaching.
(3) A method admirably adapted for impressing the great truth of the gospel on men’s hearts.
3. The extent to which they preached this gospel was universal. “Everywhere.” “To every creature,” was the command.
III. Contemplate the apostles experiencing their Lord’s cooperation with them in their labours. Wherever they worked as instruments, He worked also as the efficient agent; for His power is omnipotent; and the “signs” promised were the result.
1. These Divine influences qualified the preachers of the gospel.
2. These Divine influences confirmed the truth of the gospel.
3. These Divine influences ensured the success of the gospel.
A glorious conquest-a triumph over mind and heart. It was great and godlike even to plan the moral conquest of a world; but when the plan is all accomplished, when all the nations of the earth become one holy and happy family, then shall the world enjoy its millennial jubilee, and Christ the Mediator shall be Lord of all. (J. Alexander, D. D.)
An open way to heaven
When He ascended up on high, He opened and prepared a path, along which we may travel till we behold His face in righteousness. It has been said, that in the early ages an attempt was once made to build a chapel on the top of the hill from which Christ ascended into heaven; but that it was found impossible either to pave over the place where He last stood, or to erect a roof across the path through which He had ascended;-a legendary tale, no doubt, though perhaps intended to teach the important troth that the moral marks and impressions which Christ has left behind Him can never be obliterated; that the way to heaven through which He has passed can never be closed by human skill or power; and that He has set before us an open door which no man shall be able to shut. (J. Alexander, D. D.)
And preached everywhere.
The publication of the gospel by the apostles
I. The general publication of the Gospel by the apostles. Their industry in this work was almost incredible. What pains did they take! What hazard did they run! What difficulties and discouragements did they contend with! And yet their success was greater than their industry, and beyond all human expectation, as will appear from the following considerations.
1. The vast spreading of the gospel in so short a time (Revelation 14:6; Isaiah 60:8). In the space of about thirty years after our Lord’s death, the gospel was not only diffused through the greatest part of the Roman Empire, but had reached as far as Parthia and India.
2. The wonderful power and efficacy of it upon the lives and manners of men (Romans 15:18). The change of religion led to an entire change of life. So arrange an effect had the gospel upon the lives of its professors, that Tertullian challenges the Roman Senate to instance in anyone who bore the title of Christian, who was condemned as a thief, or a murderer, or a sacrilegious person, or who was guilty of any of those gross enormities for which so many pagans were every day punished.
3. The weakness and insignificance of the instruments employed in this great work.
4. The mighty opposition that was raised against the gospel. At its first appearance it could not be otherwise, but that it must meet with a great deal of difficulty and opposition, from the lusts and vices of men, which it so plainly and severely condemned, also from the prejudices of men brought up in a contrary religion. Moreover, the powers of the world combined their forces against it.
5. The great discouragements to the embracing the profession of it. There was nothing to invite and engage men to it but the consideration of another world; for all the evils of this world threatened everyone who took the profession of Christianity upon him. Yet, in spite of every obstacle, Christianity not only lived, but grew and prospered. Can any one of the false religions of the world pretend to have been propagated and established in such a manner, merely by their own force, and the evidence and power of truth upon the minds of men; and to have borne up and sustained themselves so long under such fierce assaults, as Christianity has done?
II. The reason of the great efficacy and success of the apostles’ preaching. The power of the Holy Ghost accompanied it, both inwardly operating on the minds of men, and also convincing them by outward and visible signs.
1. Consider the nature of the Spirit’s gifts, and the use and end to which they served.
2. Show how the gospel was confirmed by them. Conclusion: How sad that this religion, which was so powerful at first, and has Divinity so clearly stamped upon it, should yet have so little effect upon most of those who call themselves Christians! (Hebrews 2:1-4). (Archbishop Tillotson.)
Miracles the most proper way of proving the Divine authority of any religion
An account of the means whereby the preaching of the apostles became so successful. Not from any mighty talent of persuasion, or extraordinary faculty of reasoning with which they were endued; not by any intrinsic evidences of truth, which the distinguishing doctrines they preached carried with them; nor by any other method purely human and natural; but by Divine power and assistance, accompanying them in every step they took, and miraculously blessing their endeavours. Miracles are fitly termed “signs,” because done to signify who are appointed by God, as the messengers of His will to men. Their suitability for this purpose will appear, if we consider-
I. The common sense and opinion of mankind. All religions, whether true or false, have at their first setting out, endeavoured to countenance themselves by real or pretended miracles.
II. The general nature of this sort of evidence. How can a man prove his Divine mission but by a miracle, i.e., by doing something which all confess that none but God can do.
III. Some peculiar characters and properties that belong to them.
1. They are extremely fit to awaken men’s attention. Curiosity is the first step towards conviction. When once men are possessed with a due regard for the messenger, they will be sure to listen carefully to the message he brings.
2. They are the shortest and most expeditious way of proof. Other kinds of proof were fitted only leisurely to loosen the knots, which the disputers of this world tied, in order to disturb the apostles in the execution of their ministry; miracles, like the hero’s sword, divided these entanglings at a stroke, and at once made their way through them.
3. They are an argument of the most universal force and efficacy, equally reaching all capacities and understandings. Some have not leisure for philosophical research, and others have not sufficient ability to pursue it; but a miracle carries its own evidence in its face, and is patent to all. (Bishop Atterbury.)
Signs following the gospel
While the text refers immediately to facts in the infancy of our religion, it is also identified with permanent principles, and presents matter of momentous contemplation to ourselves and all generations of men.
I. An important communication delivered.
1. Its nature.
2. Its extent.
II. A conclusive attestation, by which this communication was confirmed.
1. Miraculous agencies.
2. Spiritual changes in the human character. (See Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 9:1-43).
III. An imperative claim, which this communication urges upon all to whom it is addressed.
1. To be believed.
2. To be promulgated (Romans 10:14-16). (James Parsons.)
Divine cooperation in Christianity
I know not precisely what advances may be made by the intellect of an unassisted savage; but that a savage in the woods could not compose the “Principle” of Newton, is about as plain as that he could not create the world. I know not the point at which bodily strength must stop; but that a man cannot carry Atlas or Andes on his shoulders is a safe position. The question, therefore, whether the principles of human nature, under the circumstances in which it was placed at Christ’s birth, will explain His religion, is one to which we are competent, and is the great question on which the whole controversy turns. Now we maintain that a great variety of facts belonging to this religion-such as the character of its Founder; its peculiar principles; the style and character of its records; its progress; the conduct, circumstances, and sufferings of its first propagators; the reception of it from the first on the ground of miraculous attestations; the prophecies which it fulfilled and which it contains; its influence on society, and other circumstances connected with it;-are utterly inexplicable by human powers and principles, but accord with, and are fully explained by, the power and perfections of God. (Dr. Channing.)
Christianity, a living power
Miracles and the fulfillments of prophecy ought no longer to be put forward in the forefront of our plea for Christianity, but should be subordinated to the exhibition of the actual power of Christianity in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual spheres of our being. In the place of prophecy we have history-the history of eighteen centuries, during which the power of Christ’s light and grace has been seen in actual operation, subduing to Him the human soul and human society, and thus evincing its unique and supernatural character. Instead of the miracles of the gospel we have in present reality what may fairly be called a moral and spiritual miracle, in the transcendent influence which Christ, at this moment, is exercising over the world. We stand face to face with an actual Christianity, which is unquestionably the most marvellous spiritual phenomenon in the world’s history; and it cannot be right for us to endeavour to learn Christ by proceeding as if we could obliterate eighteen centuries, and forget that there is such a thing as a living Christianity. (Bishop Alfred Barry.)
The Lord working with them:-Spread of Christianity
Arnobius, a heathen philosopher who became a Christian, speaking of the power which the Christian faith exercised over the minds of men, says: “Who would not believe it, when he sees in how short a time it has conquered so great knowledge? Orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, and philosophers, have thrown up their opinions, which but a little before they held, and have embraced the doctrines of the gospel!”
The gospel everywhere
Close the eyes for two and a half centuries, and a Roman emperor has torn the eagle from his standard to set there the cross, and the mistress of the world is at the feet of Him she crucified. Wait, and look again; a thousand years have passed-just a day with God-and the power of this Name has subdued the wildness of German forests, leaped the Channel, and raised the hewn timber of the tree of Calvary against the wild Druids’ oak. And today, when all civilization is at its height, and the world is quivering with fresh powers and measureless hopes, there is no other name which stands for a moment beside that of the risen Lord. Nor has He won His rights unchallenged. No such battles were ever fought as those which have raged about Him. His teachings, His nature, His very existence, have been the strife of the ages. We ourselves have seen the combat: and now, thanks to the criticism which doubted and the infidelity which denied, we know with demonstration never had before, that Jesus did live on this earth, that He spoke these words in the Gospels, and that His character and His influence are merely inexplicable on the supposition of His mere manhood. (C. M. Southgate.)
Divine power in the Church
We recall the story of the Book of the Gospels-Cuthbert’s own book-which the monks at Lindisfarne carried with them in their wanderings. They set sail for Ireland; a storm arose; the book fell overboard, and was lost; they were driven back to the English coast. Disconsolate, they went in quest of the precious volume: for a long time they searched in vain; but at length (so says the story) a miraculous revelation was vouchsafed to them, and, following its directions, they found the book on the sands far above high-water mark, uninjured by the waves-nay, even more beautiful for the disaster. Does not this story well symbolize the power of the eternal gospel working in the Church? Through the carelessness of man, it may disappear amidst the confusion of the storms; the waves may close over it and hide it from human sight. But lost-lost forever-it cannot be. It must reassert itself, and its glory will be the greater for the temporary eclipse which it has undergone. (Bishop J. B. Lightfoot.)
Vitality of Christ’s religion
Christianity throughout eighteen centuries has shown itself possessed of the peculiar power of recovering life when apparently almost defunct-a peculiarity entirely absent in every mythology, which, when once dead, never can be restored, but remains forever in the realm of shadows; that Christianity has a phoenix nature, and after every historic death arises anew from the grave; and that along with the resurrection which Christianity has had in our day, has also arisen from the grave the true conception of humanity. (Bishop Martensen.)
With signs following-The Church’s evidences
Where the spiritually blind are enlightened, the spiritually dead quickened, the spiritually deaf and dumb made to hear devoutly and to speak piously, the spiritually lame made to walk in the paths of righteousness and to be active in every good work, and the spiritually leprous are cleansed from sins,-there the Lord is confirming the Word with signs following; for these are signs and wonders greater than physical changes, the greater deeds that our Lord promised that His disciples would perform. These signs still follow the preaching of the Word; and the age of miracles of grace is not past, nor shall it ever pass while time lasts. (T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)
That is, such miracles as should be the seals and testimony of the truth. These miracles were therefore-
1. Signs to the apostles themselves, so that they might not despair at the greatness of the work which they were commissioned to do.
2. Signs to others, and a confirmation of the truth which the apostles taught. Hence Christ does not call them miracles, but signs: since the very object of the miracles which followed their teaching was to have this moral effect, and to testify to those who needed this proof, that the doctrine which they delivered was from God. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Three signs which follow all effectual preaching-
(1) Compunction of file hearers;
(2) conversion of sinners;
(3) confirmation of the just.
Conclusion: The figure which stands out from this book is Jesus. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A man must be holy to comprehend the holiness of Jesus. Let us suppose the case of a sharp man, who has neither taste nor genius, standing before a great picture; he will point out flaw after flaw in Raphael. Place one who has neither musical appreciation, nor modesty to admit it, where he must hear Beethoven. It is an unmeaning noise, which gives him a headache. Even so, the lower the moral and spiritual life may be, the less is Jesus understood and loved. To an easy, soft-mannered, hard-hearted man of the world; to a subtle, bitter, selfish scholar, with the delicate intellectual egotism, and the fatal gilt of analysis a outrance, Gethsemane and the cross may be a scandal or a mockery, The gospel, which seems so poor and pale when we rise from the songs of poets and the reasonings of philosophers, is a test of our spirit. Let some ambitious students in philosophy-some who have been communing for hears with the immortal masters of history, charmed with the balanced masses and adjusted perspectives of the composition, speak out their mind today upon this Gospel of St. Mark. They will not place it very high upon their list. But turn to it tomorrow, when the end of your toil finds you disappointed men; when sorrow visits you; when, as you put your hand upon the wall of your room, memory, like a serpent, starts out and stings you. Then you will recognize the infinite strength and infinite compassion of Jesus. Out of your weakness and misery, out of your disappointment, you will feel that here you can trust in a nobility that is never marred, and rest that tired heart of yours upon a love that never fails St. Mark is the Gospel whose emblem is the lion, whose hero is full of Divine love and Divine strength. It is the Gospel which was addressed to the Romans to free them from the misery of scepticism, from the grinding dominion of iron superhuman force unguided by a loving will. Here, brief as it is, we have, in its essential germs, all the theology of the Church. Had every other part of the New Testament perished, Christendom might have been developed from this. A man’s faith does not consist of the many things which he affects to believe or finds it useful to believe (as men are said to be doing in France), but of the few things which he really believes, and with which he stands, fronting his own soul and eternity. This faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is sufficient. Hold it fast, and you shall find the power of one of our Lord’s promises which is peculiar to this Gospel. If you are called upon to “handle the serpents,” or “to drink the deadly things” of science and philosophy, you shall lift up the serpent as a standard of victory. The cup of poison shall not reach your heart as it reached the heart of Socrates, when the sun was going down behind the hill tops. “It shall not hurt you.” Hold fast this gospel in that which tries many who are undisturbed by speculative doubt, in conscious sinfulness, in the allurements of lust. Hold it fast in the din of voices that fill a Church distracted by party cries, and “He who has instructed His Church by the heavenly doctrine of His Evangelist St. Mark, will grant that, being not like children, carried away by every blast of vain doctrine, you shall be established in the truth of His holy gospel.” (Bishop William Alexander.)
Encouragement of God’s presence
“I have lately been full of perplexities about various temporal concerns. I have met with heavy afflictions; but in the mount the Lord is seen. All my hope is in God; without His power no European could possibly be converted, and that can convert any Indian. Though the superstitions of the Hindoos were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of Europeans a thousand times worse; though I were deserted by all, and persecuted by all, yet my hope, fixed on the Rock, will rise superior to every obstruction, and triumph over every trial. I feel happy in this, that I am engaged in the work of God, and the more I am engaged in it, the more I feel it a rich reward. Indeed, I would rejoice in having undertaken it, even though I should perish in the attempt. (William Carey.)
God with His servants
If I go to a large factory and see a hundred straps flying in all directions, I ask where is the motive power-the engine. So you are walking with the power of God, upheld by the arm of righteousness. If one of your merchantmen should ask me to go to Philadelphia to conduct a business for him, and should say to me: “I expect you to carry on this business with your own capital,” I would think it very strange. It would not be his business, but my own. That is the mischief with all Christians. They are in business for the Lord, but working with their own capital. (Henry Varley.)
Christians implements in the hands of God
It is one thing to attempt to row a ship; it is another to unfurl the sails, and send her leaping, with a fresh breeze, like a thing of life, across the big opposing waves. It is one thing for a man to try to drag a ear on a railroad; it is another to fill the boiler of the locomotive with water, put in fuel, kindle a strong fire, and soon fly like the wind over mountains and plains, counting the long, loaded train a mere plaything. But these analogies, drawn from our human employment of the material forces of nature, and feeble to illustrate the difference between the man who attempts to influence and convert men, and to advance spiritual and eternal things by any philosophy of the wisest of men, or by any motives of time, and the man whose whole and sincere aim it is to be but an implement in the hand of the Almighty. Then his prayers “move the arm that moves the skies.” Then his labours are not his own; but the eternal Father, the loving Redeemer, the Holy Ghost, the angels, the inspired Word, the prayers of the saints-all the infinite powers of good in heaven and earth-work through him. (Dr. Cuyler.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Mark 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany