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These Sermons are published in deference to the wishes of many persons to whom from time to time they have been useful. As here arranged, they can make very little pretence to system; and, from the nature of the case, they often repeat each other, in substance if not in words. Some of them, however, are bound up with the formation or recovery of religious convictions in a manner and degree which exert a first claim on the author’s consideration; and this has made him unwilling to omit passages, or even entire discourses, which a true literary judgment would have proscribed.It ought perhaps to be added that the 35th Sermon was preached in St. Paul’s, at the invitation of the late Dean Milman, and at a date when the preacher had not become a member of the Chapter.If this volume should prove to be at all generally acceptable, the author might hereafter publish other Sermons preached during his Residences at St. Paul’s, since February 1870, in the months of August and December. Of these, the latter would relate, for the most part, to our Lord’s First and Second Coming. The former would deal with a wider range of subjects, although generally such as are suggested, however incidentally, by the Services of the Church.3 Amen Court, St. Paul’s,St. James’s Day, 1885.
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Easter in St. Paul’s
bearing chiefly on the resurrection of
VOLS. I & II
By H. P. LIDDON, D.D., D.C.L.
Canon of St. Paul’s
Surrexit Dominus verè. Alleluia
E. P. DUTTONANDCOMPANY
publishers and importers
THE VERY REVEREND
RICHARD WILLIAM CHURCH, D.C.L.
dean of st. paul’s
whose tenure of his high office has been
not less a blessing to london
than a constant source of the truest happiness
to those over whom he more
Hope. Inspiration. Trust.
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QUICK TABLES OF Contents
SERMON I. The Importance of the Resurrection
SERMON II. The Empty Tomb
Sermon III. Christianity without the Resurrection
Sermon IV. Christianity without the Resurrection
Sermon v. Grounds of Faith in the Resurrection
Sermon VI. The Resurrection Inevitable
Sermon VII. The Reality of the Resurrection
Sermon VIII. Our Lord’s Resumption of Life
Sermon IX. The Power of Recovery
Sermon X. The Living not Among the Dead
Sermon XI. The Power of the Resurrection
Sermon XII. Easter Hopes
Sermon XIII. Easter joy
Sermon XIV. The Undying One
Sermon XV. The Day of Days
Sermon XVI. Easter Consolations
Sermon XVII. The Emmaus Road
Sermon XVIII. Jesus on the Evening of Easter Day
Sermon XIX. The Peace of Christ
Sermon XX. The Model of our New Life
Sermon XXI. Seeking Things Above
Sermon XXII. Faith’s Conquest of the World
Sermon XXIII. The Raiser of the Dead
Sermon XXIV. The Lord’s Day
Sermon XXV. The Lord of Life
Sermon XXVI. The Victory of Easter
Sermon XXVII. The Good Shepherd
Sermon XXVIII. Reverence
Sermon XXIX. Endurance of Wrong
Sermon XXX. Christ our Example
Sermon XXXI. Truth the Bond of Love
Sermon XXXII. Freedom & Law
Sermon XXXIII. Jesus the Only Saviour of Men.a
Sermon XXXIV. The Apostolic Commission
Sermon XXXV. Witnesses for Jesus Christ
Sermon XXXVI. Divine Teaching Gradual
Sermon XXXVII. Divine Teaching Gradual
About CrossReach Publications
Bestselling Titles from CrossReach
the importance of the resurrection
1 Cor. 15:19
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 1, 1883
the empty tomb
St. John 20:13
And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 1, 1877
christianity without the resurrection
1 Cor. 15:14
If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 8, 1877
christianity without the resurrection
1 Cor. 15:14
If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 13, 1879
grounds of faith in the resurrection
1 St. John 5:6
It is the Spirit That beareth witness
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 20, 1879
the resurrection inevitable
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 16, 1876
the reality of the resurrection
St. Luke 24:39
Behold My Hands and My Feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 12, 1885
our lord’s resumption of life
St. John 10:18
I have power to take it again
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 17, 1881
the power of recovery
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 13, 1884
the living not among the dead
St. Luke 24:5, 6
Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 13, 1873
the power of the resurrection
That I may know Him, and the power of His Resurrection
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 5, 1885
1 St. Peter 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 7, 1872
Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy: Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 9, 1882
the undying one
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 5, 1874
the day of days
This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 21, 1878
St. Luke 24:17
And He said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 24, 1881
the emmaus road
St. Luke 24:32
Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 20, 1884
jesus on the evening of easter day
St. Luke 24:39
Behold My Hands and My Feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 4, 1875
the peace of christ
St. John 20:19
The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 23, 1876
the model of our new life
That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life
Preached at St. Paul’s on Easter Day, April 17, 1870
seeking things above
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 4, 1880
faith’s conquest of the world
1 St. John 5:4
This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith
Preached at St. Paul’s on Low Sunday, April 16, 1882
the raiser of the dead
Phil. 3:20, 21
The Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 26, 1874
the lord’s day
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 8, 1883
the lord of life
St. John 14:19
Because I live, ye shall live also
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 22, 1877
the victory of easter
1 St. John 5:4, 5
That which is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 23, 1871
the good shepherd
St. John 10:11
Jesus said, I am the Good Shepherd
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 14, 1872
Rev. 1:17, 18
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His Right Hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 27, 1873
endurance of wrong
1 St. Peter 2:19
This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 15, 1877
christ our example
1 St. Peter 2:21
Leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Second Sunday after Easter, April 27, 1879
truth the bond of love
2 St. John 1, 2
The Elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the Truth; for the Truth’s sake, Which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 30, 1871
freedom and law
1 St. Peter 2:16
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 21, 1872
jesus the only saviour of men
1 Cor. 1:13
Was Paul crucified for you?
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 20, 1880
the apostolic commission
St. Matt. 28:18–20
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 30, 1882
witnesses for jesus christ
Ye shall be witnesses unto Me
Preached at St. Paul’s on the Third Sunday after Easter, April 17, 1864
divine teaching gradual
St. John 16:12, 13
I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth
Preached at St. Paul’s on the fourth Sunday after Easter, April 28, 1872
divine teaching gradual
St. John 16:12
I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now
Preached at St. Paul’s on the fourth Sunday after Easter, April 22, 1883
These Sermons are published in deference to the wishes of many persons to whom from time to time they have been useful. As here arranged, they can make very little pretence to system; and, from the nature of the case, they often repeat each other, in substance if not in words. Some of them, however, are bound up with the formation or recovery of religious convictions in a manner and degree which exert a first claim on the author’s consideration; and this has made him unwilling to omit passages, or even entire discourses, which a true literary judgment would have proscribed.
It ought perhaps to be added that the 35th Sermon was preached in St. Paul’s, at the invitation of the late Dean Milman, and at a date when the preacher had not become a member of the Chapter.
If this volume should prove to be at all generally acceptable, the author might hereafter publish other Sermons preached during his Residences at St. Paul’s, since February 1870, in the months of August and December. Of these, the latter would relate, for the most part, to our Lord’s First and Second Coming. The former would deal with a wider range of subjects, although generally such as are suggested, however incidentally, by the Services of the Church.
3 Amen Court, St. Paul’s,
St. James’s Day, 1885.
1 Cor. 15:19
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
St. Paul, in this great passage, makes Christianity answer with its life for the truth of our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, your faith is also vain.”1a He would not write in this way unless he had in view a temper of mind which made a statement thus explicit and startling not less than necessary.
The Greek converts at Corinth entertained objections to the Resurrection which were suggested by the philosophical habits of thought of their earlier, unconverted life. They could not make out to themselves a satisfactory physical theory of the Resurrection. “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?”2b St. Paul answers these questions so far as the occasion required; and he then goes on to a point of even graver importance. For these Greeks, in their airy, light-hearted, careless manner, would seem to have suggested that it did not matter very much whether the Resurrection were true or not; that the Resurrection, however interesting, was not the central feature in the Christian creed; that even if man is not to rise hereafter, and if Christ did not rise on the third day from the dead, Christianity has already done, and will yet do, very much for man in this life to subdue and chasten his passions, to sweeten his temper, to make duty welcome and sorrow bearable, and the relations of men with each other kindly and unselfish. These Greek converts, who had as yet so much to learn about Christianity, would suggest that the Resurrection was a matter of merely intellectual interest, lying outside the real, beneficent and moral action of Christianity: so that even if the Apostle who preached it was wrong, and if they who questioned it were right, there was no reason for discomfort as to the claims or worth of Christianity as a whole. Christianity was really, they thought, independent of the question, and would survive it.
This is the position upon which St. Paul is making war;—with which, in fact, he will make no terms whatever. He will not allow that the question of our Lord’s Resurrection, and of the general Resurrection, which is attested by it, is for Christianity anything less than vital. It is not that he himself is, after all, only a Jew in Christian guise, who cannot enter into the subtle and delicate analysis, to which Greek thought must fain submit all subjects which come before it. It is not that as a keen dialectician he enjoys the intellectual pleasure of forcing men to look their premises in the face; of making them accept unforeseen and possibly unwelcome conclusions, to which they had by implication committed themselves. It is that, for him, Christianity is bound up with the Resurrection as with a fact inseparable from its existence. He cannot detach Christianity from this truth, after the fashion of those off-hand Corinthians; if the Resurrection goes, Christianity goes too; it vanishes in its essence, and as a whole. A Christ who did not rise is not the Illuminator, or the Redeemer of men, and the world is still without deliverance from its darkness and its sin.3a And a reason for this is that Christianity, as St. Paul thinks of it, is a great venture.4b It is a venture staked upon the eternal future. It bids men lay out their time, and dispose of their lives, and order their daily action5c on the supposition,—the tremendous supposition, which it treats as certain,—that this life is but a preface, and a very short preface, to another, and an endless life, that will follow. And the warrant for doing this is that Christ has risen from the dead,6d and has thus shown us by a demonstration addressed to sense not only or chiefly that Death is not the end, but that He is Lord of the world beyond the grave;7e that He has the keys of hell and of death.8f But if this warrant is unsubstantial; if this venture is unwarranted; if in this life only we have hope in Christ; we have indeed made a capital mistake, and are of all men most miserable.
What then is the hope respecting a future which we owe to our Risen Lord?
Is it the hope that we shall exist for ever? Is our continuous existence hereafter altogether dependent upon faith in and communion with the Risen Christ? Shall we be annihilated, if we die out of His grace, and hear His sentence of condemnation passed upon us?
No, brethren, this is not what the Apostle meant. Our immortality is not a gift of the Redeemer; it is the gift of the Creator. It is just as much part of our being as are any of the limbs of our bodies, or as is reason, imagination, or any other of the natural endowments of our minds.
Observe that belief in a future state does not begin with Christianity. It is as deeply rooted in the human soul as belief in God. It is found among mankind, here in considerable strength, there faint and indistinct. But, in some sense, it is wellnigh universal. The honour so widely paid to the graves of ancestors is a natural expression of belief in their survival after death. Those tombs in Etruria, upon which the earliest art of Italy lavished its best, did not merely mean that the dead lived on in the memory of survivors; but that in the belief of survivors, they were actually living in another world, and had, according to the rude notions of the time, to be honoured and provided for. It was this belief which made an ancient Egyptian deem the due embalming and preparation of his mummy the most important thing that could happen to him: it was this belief which built the Pyramids, and which conferred its strange power on the ancient Egyptian priesthood, who were less active as ministers to the living than as the accredited guardians of the dead: it was faith in immortality which rendered the Greek mysteries of Eleusis so welcome to those upon whom the old popular religion had lost its power, and which made great thinkers, such as Plato, at least in their higher moods, capable of thoughts and aspirations which Christians, in all ages, have welcomed as almost anticipating their own.
For without a Revelation, man suspects, if he does not certainly know, himself to be an immortal being. He has this idea of immortality in his mind: whence did he get it? He sees around him the incessant energy of death: he knows that he is on the road to die; he calls himself in nearly all the known languages of the race, a mortal; as if this predestination to death were his governing characteristic. And yet he has within him a consciousness of which he cannot divest himself, that he is also something that will not die with the death of his body. My brethren, human reason can satisfy itself that the soul is a distinct thing from the body. The human body is made up of a number of organs, and each of these organs of an indefinite number of particles physically distinct from each other; and as we gaze on the decomposition of a body after death, we see before our eyes the separation between these always separable particles gradually establishing itself. Whereas that in us which thinks, which loves, which resolves, is certainly and absolutely one and the same indivisible thing. The spiritual force in us which wills, is also that which feels, and that which thinks; there are not in us three beings, thinking, feeling, and resolving, but one being or person conscious of its indestructible unity while performing these several operations. Thus the soul knows itself to be distinct from the body, by this consciousness of being indivisibly one; but it also knows this by its consciousness of possessing permanent identity. The material of the body is always changing; each day it is losing some particles, it is assimilating others; the elements of which it is composed are constantly disappearing and as constantly being renewed, like the volume of water which fills the bed of a great river. They say that in seven years, every particle of a single body will have changed. And although the form, the stature, the countenance remain, yet, with time, these also are modified; man loses the outward semblance of his former self. But how different is it with the soul! Whatever may be the vicissitudes of its secret history, whatever its sorrows or its aspirations, whatever its intolerable burdens, or its buoyant hopes; whether it be contemplating the present, or recalling the past, or endeavouring to pierce the veil of the future, it knows itself to be ever the same; nay, this persistent sameness of which it is thus conscious in the midst of change, is the very basis of its idea of time. Thus it is clear that the causes which bring about the dissolution of a divisible and ever-changing organism like the human body would not touch the existence of an indivisible and permanently identical being like the soul: and that, although, as Kant remarks, the soul might conceivably perish by a gradual languor or extinction of its vital force, or as others have suggested by a fiat of the Almighty Creator, there is no producible reason for thinking that it will do so. On the other hand, since the death of the body cannot be presumed to affect it, there are strong reasons for anticipating its enduring life. In nothing do we more nearly touch the consciousness of immortality than in our sense of carrying within us much that never attains completeness here. The more we reflect upon the capacity of the different gifts and powers of the mind, and upon their imperfect satisfaction in this present state; the more we become interested in adding to what we know, and in trying to discover a purpose in it; the more we make efforts to attain moral excellence, and find, in doing so, that we have become conscious of entering upon new spheres of existence which before were hidden from us,—the more certain we are that we must live hereafter. In short, we have within us an appetite for or sense of the Infinite; and it never can be satisfied within the narrow bounds of our earthly existence. Above all, deeply implanted in our nature is the idea of justice and of duty in relation to it. Justice is wholly unsatisfied within the limits of this earthly existence; and as we acquire a stronger sense of its certainty and its imperativeness as a law of the universe, and of the Being Who made and Who rules us, so do we become increasingly certain that there must be a future state in which the demands of justice will be satisfied.
We look forward then, as reasonable beings, to immortality. But to what sort of immortality does this anticipation point?
Is it the immortality of the race? Does the individual really perish at death, and ought he, if he be humble and unselfish, to be satisfied with knowing that humanity survives? No; this is not the immortality to which we men look forward. The immortality of the race! Is it anything more than a phrase? What does it mean? It means the succession, indefinitely prolonged, of a countless number of totally distinct beings of a single type. Each single being dies: but the type, the resemblance between them, survives. How is this shadowy survival entitled to the name of immortality? A race of beings does not live, apart from the individuals which compose it; and therefore when we talk of its immortality we are the victims of a phrase of rhetoric. Only a person,—the reflecting and resolving centre of individual life,—can be properly immortal; the indefectibility of the type of animal to which he belongs is no more to him than would be the imperishableness of the earth or the sky, or the indestructibility of matter, if indeed these expressions could represent anything real.
Is it then an immortality of fame? Is the yearning of a human soul to be satisfied by the knowledge that after death its virtues will live in the memory of posterity? But how many in each generation can hope to share in such an immortality as this? How many of us are called to positions, to actions, to sacrifices, of such importance that they command the attention of more than a handful of men? How many of us will have a place in the public memory and, as the phrase goes, live in history? For most of us life is made up of little duties,—very necessary to be performed, often performed with effort and suffering,—but of so humble a kind that they hardly have a place in our own memories from day to day, much less in those of others. The Gospel indeed says that these duties are the scene of our probation no less truly than are the historical actions of kings and statesmen. But if there is no life after death, and the only immortality is that of fame, what is to become of them, that is, what is to become of this kind of immortality in the case of the greater part of the human race? Is not this immortality only a perpetuation of inequalities which disfigure our earthly life, and of which a future of absolute truth and justice would know nothing? Does it not consecrate all the successful ambitions, all the unworthy or hypocritical careers which have made a noise in the world, while it condemns virtues whose only crime is that they have been secret? Have we not here a reversal of that saying of our Lord’s, which pierces so deep into the conscience of mankind, that one day “the last shall be first, and the first last”?9a
Is it then an immortality of our good deeds? To say that a man lives in his good actions may be Christian language: it is said, we know, of the dead who die in the Lord, that “their works do follow them.”10b To this day the saints of the Bible history live in the works which are recorded of them. Even the smallest act when instinct with noble motive may, like Magdalene’s anointing the Feet of the Redeemer, endure after the lapse of intervening ages, as a power in human life. But there are actions in all true and saintly lives which are known only to God, and which, so far as we can see, have no certain consequences here on earth. There are lives of unwitnessed, unmentioned, patient suffering; there are good deeds, carefully disguised even from the suspicion of those who benefit by them. Christians know that these are not lost; that they leave indelible traces on the soul of the agent; that they are recorded before God. But if the soul perishes at death what becomes of them? in what sense are they immortal?
And are our good deeds our only deeds? Have not our evil deeds—some of them—consequences; and do these consequences punish the agent, if he really perishes at death? What shall we say of writings which destroy faith in virtue and reverence for truth? or of acts, which make the lives of others miserable, or which cannot be recalled without the contagion which is inseparable even from their memory? The writer, the agent, has ceased to exist, so we are told, at death. To say that he is punished by the actions which thus survive him is to toy with language. Others than he are punished: the innocent whom he has defamed; the believing whom he has robbed of their hope; the relations whom he has condemned to an association with infamy; the young or the unprotected whom he has first introduced to the knowledge of evil. No; the immortality of our actions is not an immortality which satisfies the yearnings of the heart of man,—since this yearning is based always and especially on its sense of justice.
There are many well-intentioned people who think to honour our Lord and Saviour by referring altogether to Him both the belief in and the gift of immortality. May God bless them for their motive, and save them from their error! The truth of immortality is taught us, at least indistinctly, by our natural reason: the fact of our immortality is part of the natural endowment with which we issue, each one of us, from the hands of the Creator. Do not let us think to honour the teaching of Revelation by depreciating that of reason; or to exalt the blessings of Redemption at the expense of God’s love and bounty as displayed in creating us. Our knowledge of immortality is older than the Gospel; and our possession of it is independent of the work of Jesus Christ.
What then is the hope in Christ, which redeems Christian life from the failure and misery alluded to in the text? It is the hope, that through His precious Death and His glorious Resurrection, our inevitable immortality will be an immortality of bliss.
Of course, it is not denied that He has “brought life and immortality to light.”11a For multitudes before He came it was a vague and dreary anticipation: He has made it a blessed and welcome certainty. He has familiarised us with the idea, that all live unto God; that belief in God, as the God of the ancient dead, carries with it belief in their permanent individual existence;12b and He has further taught the future resurrection of the Body, as completing the life beyond the grave.13c He thus has altogether removed the question of life after death from the region of speculation into that of certainty, founded upon experience; since when He rose from death and presented Himself to the senses of those who saw Him, He was Himself but the first-fruits from the dead.14d But the hope in Christ is something more than this conviction; it is the hope of a blessed immortality. This He has won for us by His one Perfect and Sufficient Sacrifice on the Cross, whereby our sins are blotted out, and the grace of His Spirit and His New Nature is secured to us in His Church, so as to fit us, by sanctification, for His eternal presence. That His Cross has this virtue is proved to us by His Resurrection from the dead; that He lives in order that we may live also,15a is the basis of our hope in Him.16b Apart from this conviction, Christianity is indeed a worthless dream; the efforts and sacrifices of the Christian life are wasted; we are the victims of a great delusion; we are of all men most miserable.
There are signs in our day that faith in a future after death is less taken for granted than was the case a generation ago.
One of these signs is the increased number of suicides all over Europe. As to the fact, I fear, there can be no question. There are not merely the pathetic suicides of the very wretched, who in a paroxysm of suffering close their eyes to the desperate nature of their attempt to escape from it: there are the suicides of votaries of pleasure, who having exhausted all the faculties of enjoyment, are, as one has said, sated with life, and would throw it away like a toy which has ceased to please. Suicides like these are the crimes of old civilisations: they are almost unknown in the young fresh life of a nation or a race. They mean, that the opportunities for enjoyment have in certain classes outrun the power to enjoy; that wealth, luxury, splendour, which seem so enviable to those who do not share them, only make the sense of moral lassitude and fatigue more intolerable, when they no longer please; only augment the desire to escape from life,—with as little pain as may be,—into an existence with new sensations, or, if it might be, into annihilation. Suicides are only possible, when through continuous enervation of the moral nature, the awful realities of immortality have been lost sight of: and their increase is a serious symptom of what must be passing in large classes of minds.
While the hours of last year, 1882, were running out, an event of European importance, as we now know, was taking place. The most powerful man in France was dying. And one of the first events in this present year upon which the eyes of Europe were fixed was Gambetta’s funeral. Everything was done that could be done by a grateful country to give it political importance. The State paid the expenses, and nothing on the same scale of splendour and publicity had been seen in Paris since Morny was buried. And, among other noticeable circumstances in connection with it, this was especially noticeable;—that throughout the proceedings, nothing was said or done to imply that man lives after death, or that God, or the religion which binds us to Him, are entitled to notice.
It could not be but that such a circumstance would command much and anxious attention, from Christians as well as from the opponents of Christianity. The latter, in this country as elsewhere, insisted upon its significance. It was the first instance, they said, of a total disregard of profession of faith in a future at the funeral of a European politician of the first rank. Even Robespierre had been eager to proclaim his belief in immortality: and many a man in high position who, like Talleyrand, during life might have repudiated the claims of religion, had welcomed its ministers when on the bed of death, and had been interred amid the words of hope, the prayers, the benedictions, which are so dear to Christians. Of the religious worth of this tardy or posthumous honour to religion, I am not now speaking:—Gambetta’s funeral may have been, in a terrible sense, sincere. But the significant thing is that such an event should have been possible. It meant a great deal first and immediately for France, and then, more remotely, for Europe. It showed that, in our day, on an occasion of national importance, a great people in the heart of Christendom could officially look death in the face, and ignore everything that follows it.
Much seems to show that in the modern world two entirely different beliefs about man are confounded with each other.
According to one of these, man is really only the highest of the beasts that perish. He is much more accomplished than any of the other beasts; he has somehow developed qualities and capacities which enable him to master them; he occupies a position in Nature, and makes her subserve his purposes, after a fashion to which they can lay no pretension. But in the end it is much the same with him as with them. If they vanish utterly with the decay and death of their bodies, so does he; and his case only differs from theirs in that extinction is more pathetic when there is so much more to lose and to deplore. As the old sceptic in Ecclesiastes says: “That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; for all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”17a Opposed to this idea of man, as an accomplished animal which perishes outright at death, is the Christian belief that man differs from the lower creatures altogether, except in the fact, that he owns a body, which is governed, chemically and physiologically, by the same laws as theirs. For man, his body, instead of being the substantive and central part of his being, is an appendage. Man is really a spirit with a body attached to it; a body in which he works out his probation here, and which, after parting with it at death, he will receive in a spiritualised form hereafter. The soul of man no more dies when it leaves the body, than the musical genius which makes that organ do so much to aid the devotion of God’s people in this Cathedral forfeits its knowledge and its skill when it ceases to touch the key-board. In man the central or substantive feature is the soul; and of the life of the soul, this earthly life in the body is but a very small portion indeed. It is related to what follows, as is a brief preface to a very voluminous book: it throws light on what is to come; it is relatively insignificant. “The things which are seen are temporal: the things which are not seen are eternal.”18a
And Easter is the season at which Christians should rekindle in themselves, and if it may be, through intercourse, in others, this sense of immortality. If man is not immortal, human life is a very poor thing indeed. But Christian life is more than a misfortune; it is a signal mistake. It was the rule of an excellent person now with Christ, before he left his room every morning to say this, among other prayers: “Grant, O Lord, that in all my works and words this day, I may never forget eternity.” Let us also endeavour to cherish and extend the thoughts and resolutions which befit beings who must exist for ever. What are our prayers but the language of immortal spirits addressed to One Who has neither beginning nor end? What are our friends, our acquaintances, our enemies, if unhappily we have any, but beings, who like ourselves have before them an endless existence, and in whose destiny He Who has redeemed us by His Blood has an interest not less than in our own? What are our actions—be they, according to human standards, great or insignificant—but steps which our wills are taking, daily, hourly, in whatever direction, towards a future which ought to be for Christians the subject of all their best hopes? “The hope which is laid up for us in heaven”19a—let us think well of it. Let us have the courage—I had almost said, the logic—of our faith. Let us remember that time is short, and that eternity is long.
St. John 20:13
And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.
The tears of St. Mary Magdalene before the empty sepulchre of Jesus Christ are at first sight out of keeping with the exulting joy of the Easter festival. Doubtless, as the wise man says, there is a time for everything.20a By common consent, mirth is unseemly at a funeral, and mourning at a wedding. No good Christian would think of giving an entertainment on Good Friday; and Easter Day, if it be anything, is a day of joy. It is the brightest, happiest day in the whole Christian year, for every sincere worshipper of Jesus Christ. This day reminds the Christian of the foundation fact which proves that his creed is true—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This day proclaims that the future life, for which Christians live, is a solemn and certified reality, warranted by the risen life of their Lord and Saviour. Above all, this is the day of Christ’s triumph over His enemies, over the enemies of man, over sin and death. As the Christian has sympathised with the mental and bodily sufferings of his Lord, so now he rejoices in his Lord’s victory; he rejoices because it is Jesus Christ Who triumphs. The song of Moses is also his song. “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.”21a On such a day as this, if ever, “the voice of joy and health is in the dwellings of the righteous;” because “the Right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass: the Right hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence: the Right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass.”22b
Thus it is that on Easter Day the tears of Mary Magdalene are at first sight inappropriate—almost intrusive. They seem to traverse and check the free flow of joy which is the prerogative grace and privilege of the festival. They recall the sadness of the Passion, of the Burial; the bewildering uncertainties and keen anguish of Good Friday. And yet let us be sure that they do not appear here in the inspired accounts of the Resurrection, and in the Easter services of the Church, without good reason. Probably in our present state of existence it is impossible to surrender ourselves unreservedly to one mood of feeling. No earthly sorrow is unrelieved by some ray of brightness, no joy is without the shadow of some threatening or attendant grief. It might seem that we require the foil if we are to do justice to the positive feeling of the moment; just as a landscape which is relieved by the alternate play of light and shadow, is more welcome to our natural eyesight than that which lies under the uniformly splendid but oppressive glare of a southern sun.
Tears, they say, are wont to be unreasonable. They may be, sometimes. But Mary Magdalene knew quite well why she wept before the sepulchre. The angels “say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” There is reason in the tears of Mary: they show her strong and tender love. The most reasonable of all possible forms of love was the love which she had for the perfect moral Being, our Lord Jesus Christ. Her tears express her bitter disappointment. She had come to find Him, and He was gone. “They have taken away my Lord.” Moreover they imply her longing for more knowledge about Him than she has as yet; they are the earnest of her perseverance. “I know not where they have laid Him.” Let us take these points in order.
The affection of Mary Magdalene for Jesus Christ was not of yesterday. He had rescued her from sin and shame; He had cast out of her seven devils.23a His love had not fallen, this time, upon an ungrateful heart. While He sat in the house of the Pharisee, who had forgotten the ordinary duties of Eastern hospitality, the poor penitent pressed into His presence, that she might anoint His feet with her choicest and her best, and wipe them with the hair on which in the days of her vanity she had most prided herself.24b When He hung dying on Calvary, she was there, between the desolated mother and the beloved disciple; she had bent down in love and sorrow at the foot of the cross.25c And now early on the day of the Resurrection she is first at the sepulchre; “her eyes prevent the night-watches, that she may be occupied”26d in her service of love; her hands are laden with spices and ointments, that she may do the last sad honours to Him Who still had the first place in her heart.
Let us remark, that according to the most probable explanation of the Evangelical narratives, Mary Magdalene arrived at the sepulchre, alone and first of all. As you would know, there is some difficulty at first sight in harmonising St. John’s account of the first occurrences on Easter morning with that of the three other Evangelists. St. John, in to-day’s Gospel,27a describes Mary Magdalene as coming alone to the sepulchre, finding it empty, and then going to fetch St. Peter and himself. Whereas the other three Evangelists speak of a group of women, of whom Mary Magdalene was one—St. Matthew names two, St. Mark three,—as visiting the sepulchre, finding it empty, conversing with the angels who guarded it, and then going away to inform the disciples. Now the best way of accounting for this divergence, is to make what in the circumstances and with the persons concerned would be a very natural assumption. We may assume, without doing violence to the text of the Gospels, that this entire company of women, of whom Mary Magdalene was one, set out together from the city long before daybreak to visit the tomb of Jesus, which, as you will remember, was outside the walls; but that Mary Magdalene, under the impulse of her strong and tender love, gradually moved away from the rest, and hastened on before them. Just as an hour or two later, on that same morning, St. Peter and St. John ran together to the sepulchre, but “that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre,”28b so there is reason to think it had been with Mary Magdalene. Her more ardent love was impatient of the measured pace of others, who indeed loved Jesus well, but assuredly loved Him less than she. Thus in the Gospel narratives, taken together, we have two visits of women to the sepulchre before the scene described in the text; and also two embassies of women to disciples or Apostles; and two Appearances of Jesus to women in the early morning. First Mary Magdalene reaches the sepulchre, and finds the stone rolled away. She does not look within; she sees no angel; she returns to the city, by some other and shorter path than that along which her companions were advancing, to share her anxieties with St. Peter and St. John. Then the other women reach the sepulchre: they too find the stone rolled away; unlike Mary they enter the sepulchre, and are bidden by an angel to return to Jerusalem and inform Peter and the disciples that Christ had risen. Meanwhile Mary Magdalene is on her way back to the sepulchre to pay it a second visit; this time she is in company with St. Peter and St. John. These Apostles first examine all that met the eye, and then return to the city, leaving Mary alone before the empty grave. There she stands, as the lesson which has just been read describes her, weeping in the bitterness of her grief. This time she stoops down and looks in and sees the traces of the Body of Jesus; then she enters, almost without intending it, into conversation with the angel. Jesus is the one thought that fills her soul; and when she is asked, why she weeps, she answers, “Because they have taken away my Lord out of the sepulchre, and I know not where they have laid Him.”
Mary Magdalene then, during the first hours of Easter Day, must not be merged in the company of devout women who visited the sepulchre of Jesus Christ. Her relation to the Resurrection is all her own; it is unique. She, the frail woman, the crushed broken-hearted penitent, makes the first visit to our Saviour’s Tomb. To her He appears alive, before He appears either to Peter or to John. And the secret of this her high distinction among the first and greatest of the servants of Christ, is her love. “She loved much;”29a this had been the reason for her full and free forgiveness. “She loved much;” this was the motive power which associates her, more than any other human being, with Christ’s Resurrection glory. And in this surely there is reason. For what is rightly-regulated love but moral power of the highest order? As St. Paul puts it, “The love of Christ constraineth us.”30b Few men have ever explored the heights and depths of our human nature more thoroughly than did St. Augustine, and St. Augustine has a saying which shows how highly he valued the invigorating and transforming power of love. “Only love,” he said, “and then do what thou wilt.”31c Love is indeed the very muscle and fibre of moral force. If the condition of mankind is bettered, this is effected by those who love their fellow-men. If goodness is embodied in life and character, this is by those who begin by seeing, however imperfectly, the beauty of goodness. They are enamoured of it, before they try to make it their own. If truth is sought and found, amid and across difficulties which have seemed insuperable, this is not seldom by intellects to which truth has presented itself as an object in itself so beautiful as to win the love of their hearts. And if Mary rose in the dark night to visit the grave of her slain Master, and to pay Him such honours as her poverty could yield, this was because her soul was on fire with the moral power of a strong and pure affection, which was to be rewarded presently by the attainment of its object.
All this might well seem commonplace truth: but it requires to be reasserted from time to time, and not less in our own day than in past years. The moral power of love; of love for goodness, of love for humankind, of love for right as against wrong, of love for truth as against error, is sometimes discredited among us, by being labelled with a new name. “Beware,” men say, “of being led by emotion. Emotion is for women, for the unthinking, for the young; it deserves no recognition in the life and conduct of a well-instructed thoughtful man; since he should be swayed only and entirely by reason, or by what he conceives to be rational. He has as little to do with emotional motives as with the toys of his childhood or with the toilette of his wife.”
Here observe, first of all, an assumption which is by no means warrantable, namely, that emotion is always another name for love. True, all love is emotion of a certain kind: but all emotions are by no means love. Emotion may be vulgar passion; it may be violent hate; ay, passion and hate, which, for the moment, pose in the garb of the most unimpassioned philosophy. And emotion is by no means always power. It may be the expenditure and forfeiture of power; it may be as unfruitful as any speculation respecting the unknowable that ever haunted the brain of a pedant. But love is power. Love, the concentration of purified desire upon an infinitely noble object, does move and constrain all the resources and faculties of man; love summons man to make the utmost of his manhood, whether by work or by endurance. And, therefore, love, so far from being the monopoly of women or children, is the very grace of the strongest and noblest manliness; it kindles reason itself into activity; it gives nerve and impulse to will. Woe to the man who is without love, without enthusiasm; woe to him, above all, if he glories in his moral poverty; if the glow in others of a strong love for goodness or for truth only provokes in him a smile or a sneer. Little as he may suspect it, his intellect, or common sense, when divorced from love, is a poor and awkward instrument, for all practical purposes. Little as he may suspect it, his manhood is enfeebled; he has parted with the secret of its strength. He has done his utmost when he has raised a laugh at the cost of men who pursue what they believe to be good with steady enthusiasm. But, be he who he may, he will himself never achieve anything solid or great, for the good of his fellow-creatures, or for the glory of his God. It is love,—now as in the days of Mary Magdalene,—which conquers difficulty and outlives disappointment.
For Mary’s words do breathe cruel disappointment. Mere curiosity would have been tranquil where Mary is in an agony: Mary is so bitterly disappointed because she loves. “They have taken away my Lord out of the sepulchre, and I know not where they have laid Him.” It may be thought that Mary expected too much: that she hoped to find her Lord and Friend living and risen. But this is to reflect back upon her thoughts in that dark sad hour our own knowledge of the finished Resurrection. There is no reason for thinking that she believed more, hoped for more, saw further and deeper, than did the Apostles. At that time they expected to find Jesus in His grave; and so did she. They must have then interpreted His saying about rising again the third day in a figurative sense; and so must she. They then thought that in the great conflict with the Jewish people, He had finally succumbed; so did she. The past was beyond recall; the past was failure—tragic, irretrievable failure; so she thought. But in His dear Body, laid honourably and tenderly in the rich man’s grave, there was an object, a centre-point for love. Nothing else was left. The voice, the manner, the living presence, the strong and tender words, the works of charity and of wonder; all this was of the past. So she thought. It was gone irrevocably and for ever. But there was the mangled Form, lying out of sight, lying in the grave. This she would honour, this she would love and worship, upon this she would lavish her costliest and her best. She did not care to look forward. For the moment this was enough; it was her all. And then she came, early in the morning, and found Him gone. It was dreadful. She could bear the Way of Sorrows,—the Crucifixion,—the last hour—the last cry—better than this. For the moment it was the ruin of the little that was left to love. It was the sacrifice of her all. Thus it was that she stood without at the sepulchre, weeping. Thus it was that she answered the inquiry about her sorrow—“They have taken away my Lord out of the sepulchre, and I know not where they have laid Him.”
But here it may be observed that if Mary only expected to find the Body, the cold dead Body of her Master, her passionate sorrow at missing It is unreasonable. For Mary, of course, did not know, what we who believe in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ do know,—that the Body of Jesus, as It lay in the tomb, as well as the Soul of Jesus, as It descended to the spirits of the dead,32a were alike uninterruptedly united to His Divine Person, although Body and Soul were for the time separated by death. To her His Body was only that of a human friend, which must in time mingle with the parent earth. And thus it may be thought that Mary was spending her sorrow upon what was after all transient and accidental.
Ah! you who think thus know little of true affection. Certainly love seeks its object; but if its object be out of reach then it seeks anything which suggests that object. The picture of an absent child, the handwriting of a friend who has passed away, the bit of old furniture, the flower, the animal, the dress, the gait or habit, the recurrence of a season of the year which is entwined with a memory, the repetition of a phase or mood of Nature, nay, the marked absence of something which has been customary, and which is therefore recalled by a subtle sense of contrast,—almost anything—is enough for love. The objects upon which it fixes are, to other states of feeling, matters of indifference, or matters of repulsion, or, at best, matters for wonderment. But to love they are everything. They feed and stimulate a glow of tenderness which resolutely transfigures them, and makes them what in other eyes than those of love they never could be. So it was with Mary Magdalene, weeping before the dawn of day, at the door of the sepulchre. We can imagine what comment her tears would have provoked from some well-to-do Scribe or Pharisee, learned in the law, holding a high place or a commission of some sort in the administration of public justice in Jerusalem. We can conceive the wondering, pitying scorn, too amused to be indignant, yet too annoyed to be thoroughly pleased, with which these traces of passionate attachment to the memory of a criminal condemned by the highest Court in Jerusalem, would have been regarded. Why should a Jewish girl thus care to haunt the precincts of the dead, in the early hours of the morning, when as yet the world was not about? Why should she trouble herself, if the masonry had been disturbed, if the grave had been rifled, if the supreme disgrace of crucifixion had been followed by the more tolerable insult of disentombment? Surely there were objects in the world, nearer her home, with greater claims upon her sympathies! Let her rid herself of this distorted mawkish sentimentalism as soon as may be. This is what would have been felt by such a personage as I am imagining; but what would it have mattered, did she know it, to Mary Magdalene? Love is, as a rule, supremely indifferent to criticism. It has ears and eyes for one object only; it moves straight forward to that on which its heart is fixed; it passes by all other objects—not with pride or disdain,—not even with effort: it heeds not their existence. Mary was at that very time gazing on an angelic form, so splendid and so unearthly, “that for fear of him” the soldier-keepers of the grave “did shake and became as dead men.”33a To Mary, in that moment of supreme sorrow, this glorious angel was as nothing. All that she cared for, and hoped for, all her purest feeling, all her loftiest thought, had been buried some thirty-five hours ago in that rocky tomb along with the mangled Body Which they bore away in the evening from the hill of Calvary. Do not talk to her of misplaced sentiment, or of attachment to the trifling or the accidental. Do not try to measure the movements of a soul on fire by the stilted rules of your artificial society, which can create and understand anything better than an unselfish love. Let her cry on bitterly, as she stands there; for she heeds you not. Have the grace to let her cry a while, and then consider if her tears and her love have not that in them from which you may learn something.
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