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“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
AFTER the resurrection comes life everlasting. “I am the Life.” “As the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” The Eternal Son is the Life of the world, the fountain from which all created life descends. Therefore He says, “‘He that believeth in Me,’ that is, he who, being joined to Me by My Spirit, holds to Me by his heart and soul, partaking thereby of My divine life, as members derive life from a living head,—‘though he were dead, yet shall he live;’ though soul and body were already parted—the soul unclothed, the body in the dust—‘yet shall he live.’ I hold both body and soul unto Myself, and will knit them together again by the power of a life divine. He shall rise again, and live eternally. ‘And he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die;’ that is, shall not die for ever, or shall live for ever. Death shall not be death to him. Death shall be changed to sleep, full of life and rest, gentle and soft, the body in the quiet earth, the soul in the Paradise of God. And that short slumber of the weary dust shall have its waking; at the resurrection he shall awake up into eternal life.” Such is the promise. What does it further teach us?
1. First, we learn that this life and the life to come are not two, but one and the same. Death is not the ending of one, and resurrection the beginning of another, but through all there runs one imperishable life. A river which plunges into the earth, is buried for awhile, and then bursts forth more mightily and in a fuller tide, is not two, but one continuous stream. The light of to-day and the light of to-morrow are not two, but one living splendour. The light of to-day is not quenched at sunset, and rekindled at to-morrow’s sunrise; but is ever one, always burning broad and luminous in the sight of God and of holy angels. Night is but a veil between the light and us. So with life and death. The life of the soul is immortal, an image of God’s own eternity. It lives on in sleep; it lives on through death; it lives even more abundantly, and with fuller and mightier energy. “We that are in this body do groan, being burdened.” The flesh that is upon us is a clothing of mortality; and death weighs heaviest upon us while we live. Our true life is vast in expanse, capacity, and power; but in the body it is pent up, narrowed, and enthralled. A sinless body, as in the beginning, was a worthy instrument of its perfection; and the glorious body of the resurrection will be a diviner raiment: but the body of sin is a thraldom and a shroud upon our immortal being. When we put off our sinful flesh, we are delivered “from the body of this death.”201201 Rom. vii. 24. We begin to live indeed. The one endless life of the soul comes forth from its restraint, and passes onward to a wider and more kindred world.
2. Another great law here revealed is, that as we die, so we shall rise; as there is no new beginning of our life, so there is no new beginning of our character. The stream which buries itself cloudy and turbid shall rise clouded and foul. The waters that pass clear and bright into the earth shall issue from it bright and clear again. As we fall into eternity, so shall we be eternally: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him he holy still.”202202 Rev. xxii. 11. What are these but the words of Him who is “the resurrection and the life,” sealing every soul at death by a particular judgment of its existing character? We brought nothing into this world, and of all outward things “it is certain we can carry nothing out;” but there is an inward reality here acquired, which we shall each one carry into the eternal world. We shall all carry with us the very self which we have here stamped and moulded, or distorted and branded,—the renewed image of God, or the image of the evil one. Our life, from first to last, teaches us this lesson; it is one continuous whole, gathering up itself through all its course, and perpetuating its earliest features in its latest self: the child is in the boy, the boy is in the man; the man is himself for ever. For good or for evil, we see this constant law prevail. So with the resurrection of the dead. They who die rebellious will rise in rebellion against God; they who die impenitent will rise impenitent; they who die without God in the world will rise without God in eternity. And they too who die in obedience shall rise in obedience; they who die absolved shall rise absolved; they who die united with God in devotion and prayer shall rise united in love and adoration. As we die, so shall we be: our character running on into eternity; the bent, disposition, inclination of the soul, with all its powers and affections, shall endure and abide with us for ever; with this only change, that we shall either be better or worse, for good or for evil, absolute and changeless. For we may learn, further:
3. That the resurrection will make each one perfect in his own several character. Nay, even at death it shall be unfolded into a new measure and fulness. Our character is our will; for what we will we are. Our will contains our whole intention; it sums up our spiritual nature; it contains what we call the tendency of our character: for the will gives the bias to the right or to the left; as we will, so we incline. Now this tendency, both for good and evil, is here imperfect; but it will be there fulfilled. Here it is hindered; the wicked are restrained by truth and grace, by laws and punishments, by fear and shame, by interest and the world; the good are hindered by sin and by temptation, by their own infirmities and faults. But there all restraints shall be taken away, and all aids shall be supplied. It is both an awful and consoling thought. The sinful soul, which has here been curbed by outward checks, will there break forth into an intensity stretched to the utmost by despair. As lights, when they pass into an atmosphere akin to fire, burst forth into a volume of flame, so the soul, charged with sin, issuing into the abode of anguish, will break forth into the full measure of its spiritual wickedness. The proud, angry, vindictive, and envious, shall each become absolute in their several kind; tormented, but stamped for ever by a conscious rebellion against the Spirit of God, and eternally rejected from His kingdom. What sinners are now in measure, they shall then be in its fulness. So likewise with the faithful: what they have striven to be, they shall be made. God’s grace shall perfect what they had here desired. He sees what is contained in the intensity of a death-bed repentance. The virtues of the will are above the successions of time. To fulfil in a series of acts all the humiliation, devotion, love, self-sacrifice of a contrite will needs time and duration; but to conceive the perfect purpose of “a life hid with Christ in God” may be the act of a moment. And God reads the thought and the resolve of the steadfast will. So in all the life of the regenerate. He sees what is in the intention of each. He measures the sincerity of the heart, the repentance of the soul, the self-rebukes of the conscience, the struggles of the tempted, the perseverance of the weary, the toils of the heavy-laden. He knows what they are striving to become; what they are suffering rather than consent to sin; what they are giving up, that they may be His, and His alone. All their heart’s desire, all the full meaning of their intention, He knows, interprets, and accepts; and when they pass out from the burdens and straits of this mortal life, He will fulfil their desire, and make them what they have striven and prayed to be. Blessed change to the tempted and buffeted soul, to pass into a sphere where sin can harass and tempt no more; where all that burdens the will and heart shall fall off as bands of flax in the fire, and the whole soul put forth its energies of love, intense and pure, by union and contemplation of God, in foretaste of the hour when our perfect consummation and bliss shall come. Let this, then, teach us two great truths of practice.
1. First, how dangerous is the least sin we do. Every act confirms some old tendency, or develops a new one. This we may see in childhood. A child’s whole character is sometimes turned altogether aside by one single act awakening an unknown tendency to sin; and every further act gives force and speed, and, as we say, multiplies the intensity of the will. This life is the childhood of eternity. We are all day long unfolding and fixing the character which shall be eternal. Every act of sin strengthens the inclination which produced it, and reacts upon us, inflaming and aggravating the evil disposition of the soul. Acts are the most consummate forms of evil; they express the whole force of the sin which rules us, and of our spiritual nature, which conceives and perfects them. Acts are to the soul what fruits are to a tree,—the full and complete effort of its nature, the production of its entire life and kind. They concentrate our intention, will, thought, desire, and strength; and therefore return with the heaviest recoil upon ourselves, making us more prone to the same sins again, and less willing to resist.
Only less than acts are words of sin; for they also express our whole inward being. And often it is no want of sinful inclination, but only of common courage, which makes men speak what they dare not do. In this case it is hard to say whether sinful words be not in one way even more corrupting than sinful acts; for acts sometimes bring sharp chastisements, while words escape with an impunity of shame. By the tongue men may blacken their whole inmost soul; for verily it “setteth on fire the course of nature; and itself is set on fire of hell.”203203 St. James iii. 6.
In like manner, sins of thought fix the whole character and dye of the heart, whether they be thoughts of gross or spiritual wickedness; for not only the baser, but the more refined sins are fatally corrupting. Of the seven sins commonly called deadly, the greater number are spiritual sins, and, as such, peculiarly Satanic. Thoughts of pride, envy, scorn, jealousy, and the like, steep and discolour, wither and scorch the soul; and such as it becomes by its inward actings, such, except by the grace of God converted, it must die, and such it must rise again, and be made perfect in evil for ever.
2. The other truth is, how precious is every means of grace. The patriarch saw in vision a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and at the head of it the Presence of the Lord. This mystical ascent of many steps is, as it were, a parable of the way which leads to a holy resurrection. Every means of grace is a step in that heavenly stair.
Our baptism is a sacrament of the resurrection. In it we died unto sin, were buried with Christ, and with Him rose again. “Buried with Him,” St. Paul says, “by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.”204204 Rom. vi. 4. By the gift of our regeneration we were united to the mystical body of Christ; we were made members of a Head already risen from the dead; we were joined to Him who is “the Resurrection and the Life.” This is the first step in the way; and every act and grace in our regenerate life is a further step towards perfect newness of soul and body. Our Lord Himself, speaking of the resurrection, calls it “the regeneration;” so that baptism is the resurrection begun in us, and the resurrection is baptism made perfect. The whole life of the Church is a continuous regeneration, or a perpetual resurrection: dead souls ever rising, earthly bodies ever changing from mortality to our kindred earth, to be raised again in the perfect glory of everlasting life.
What a depth and worth does this put into all the means and acts of a life of faith; into our prayers, self-examination, and confessions; into all our works of repentance, love, and mercy; but above all, into the blessed sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. He has declared to us, “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread, which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”205205 St. John vi. 50, 51, 53, 54. “As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”206206 St. John vi. 57, 58. Therefore this blessed sacrament has been honoured from the beginning, as the medicine which expels the power of death, and the food of immortality.
Let this, then, be our first aim in life, that we may attain unto the resurrection of the holy dead. Let us learn to count all things “but loss, that we may win Christ,” and at that day “be found in Him;” “that we may know Him, and the power of His resurrection;” working in us with a new and vivid life, awakening our whole soul, to live by Him, to Him, and in Him, “if by any means we may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on him the second death hath no power.” Whatsoever be this mystery of a first fruits from among the dead at Christ’s coming, there is a first resurrection which must now pass on all who would partake of it hereafter; a rising now from the death of sin to a life in God’s spirit and presence. Let this be our great work from the present hour until the resurrection of the dead. For what else will suffice, what else endure, when all things below God shall pass away? What, then, is life for a while, even the saddest, loneliest, sharpest? what are the cares and forebodings, the sorrows and tears, the pains and sicknesses, the tears and sighs of repentance, the fears and shrinkings as death comes near? Where shall all these be when “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed?” O where then will be the care-worn and mourners, the sick and the penitent, when all shall be full of heavenly joy, and clothed in heavenly array; when loved faces shall be no more clouded or death-struck, but blissful and radiant with eternal beauty? Believest thou this? and yet weepest thou? There shall be no wounds then in flesh or spirit, no pining and wasting of body, but eternal health; no griefs of penitent souls, but the peace of a perfect absolution. Believest thou this? O day of miracles! O miracle of power and love divine! we shall rise again in all personal perfection, as if sin had never entered, nor death ever set foot upon the earth; we shall be gathered unto Him who is our life, with all our loved ones in perfect mutual knowledge, and all bonds made new. We shall be a new creation, and yet still the old; new in all the perfectness of bliss, old in all the truth of our being. He hath renewed, not another creation, but our own; He hath created again, not another race in our likeness, but our very selves. He partook of our very substance, that He might raise us up each one in the newness of His Divine humanity.
And there shall we see Him face to face; we shall fall down and worship with the full flow of love made perfect, with the direct energy of a heart made like His own. We shall not only behold Him, but have power both to love and to adore; our whole spiritual being spotless as the angels of God; all our intelligence filled with uncreated light; all our affections kindled with eternal love; all our will steadfast in a changeless and blissful union with His own. To behold Him unveiled, and to have power to love Him; to be with Him in manifest presence, and to be like Him in the soul of our inmost life,—this shall be our eternity; this is everlasting Life.
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