"And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."--I COR., xv. 14.
LAST night I wished to remind you of the doctrine of the fall of man, and the results of that fall, as expressed in those words used in the parable of the Good Samaritan, half dead, and this morning, and again later today please God, I wish to speak to you of the doctrine of the Resurrection, for our life depends not on the memory of one dead, but on conscious Communion with One Who lives. I am aware that these fundamental doctrines are things which you already know, but I apprehend that, year after year, one of the best advantages of these quiet days is, not so much to gain something new as to deepen and make more sure and strong that which is old.
Let us try to see deeper into old truths, and remember that any new degree of strength God gives us should find expression in some new outcome in our life. The joy and harmony of the Christian life arises from this--increasing year by year, in the conviction of those things we have known from our childhood, more than in gathering new methods and new ways.
Let me speak to you then of the doctrine of the Resurrection, and first, this morning, we will take the fact itself, and look at the evidences of the fact, and see whether we can believe, or not, that Christ did rise from the dead.
One of the first objections taken against the Resurrection is because it was miraculous. But then you must not rest there, you must go on. That would lead you to object to all miracles. And if you object to all miracles, then you must object to the creation of the world, for that must certainly be called a miracle, in that it was an exercise of power different from what we observe exercised in our daily experience.
But if we deny the truth of the creation we shall have this pressed home upon us. That we are admitting the continual, eternal existence of matter, and that is admitting what is technically called a dualism. We shall have a pluralism, and we shall have lost belief in the One, Almighty Omniscient God.
Now, on a quiet day like this, when we are bent, my sisters and brothers in Christ, on deepening that which is old, it will not be unprofitable for you to test yourselves in this kind of way, and see how the denial of the miracle of the Resurrection would lead you logically to the denial of all miracles, and if it is to lead you to the denial of all miracles it would lead you to deny the creation of the world, and how this would lead you on to the loss of the One, Almighty, Omnipresent God, and that would leave you in despair, without God in the world.
And here I would offer you as a text for your meditation, Exodus iii. 14. God there tells Moses His Name, by which He would be known to the children of Israel, "I AM THAT I AM." And I would have you observe two things in thinking about it.
First, that God is not unknowable. He would not have deceived Moses, and told him a Name which meant nothing. "I AM THAT I AM" meant surely that something might be known about Himself.
And, next, I would ask you when you hear the word agnostic to be quite quiet about it, and look round and see that it is only a passing trouble of the day. It does not really fit in with the needs of man's being.
As God gave Himself a Name, it proves that He is not unknowable, that man can know something, not all, but something about Him. When we are convinced that we can know something of Him, we must trust the amount we cannot know, because that which we do know tells us that God is Love. When two people love one another they are often afraid each of the other, lest the other should find out in them something not so good as they suppose. It is a common experience. But the answer of love is, "I care not--nothing I can discover will affect what you are to me. Love carries all. I know I have your love, and I can rest in that and leave all else." So, in a higher way, of God. Something we may know of God--much, very much, we do not know. I have no fear that what I do not know of Him will contradict what I do know. I do know that God is Love, and that He would not deceive me, so I can trust Him. Thus, brethren, we see He is knowable in part.
And, yet again, by the Name which God gives Himself He teaches us that the definition of Himself cannot be taken from any created thing, but only from Himself. "I AM THAT I AM." He would teach us this, that God is not measurable by any created thing, for He was before all things and was the Creator of all things. So when He tells us His Name, "I AM THAT I AM," He meant us to learn that He cannot be defined by anything finite, but only by taking the definition from Himself. The words might be translated "I will be what I will be," and it may be to teach us that God is independent of all created things, of space, or matter, and so He is also independent of all time. "I will be what I will be." In that simple word there is -much value for us. It teaches us that He is not unknowable, and that for what we do not know we can trust, because we know He is love and love never deceives. We learn too that He cannot be defined by the creature, because He was before all things, and all time. God from everlasting to everlasting.
And yet, if it is so, as we believe, that God is the Creator of all things, why did He rest on the seventh day? From exhaustion, or from a satisfied will? Not from exhaustion, otherwise He is not God. Then, if from a satisfied will, He could have done more? Certainly. He could have made more worlds, or have made the earth bigger, or have made more suns, or stars, or all on a larger scale. He rested from a satisfied will, not from exhaustion. But if God rested from a satisfied will, then it follows that there remains, over and above in God, after the creation of the world, power and wisdom unexpressed.
The attributes of God, and the nature of God were not exhausted. There were power and wisdom over all that He had made.
Then it follows, that if, after the creation there was, over and above, power and wisdom and knowledge unexpressed in the Godhead, there was a reserve of power and wisdom and knowledge, which, after the creation, easily and logically manifested itself in miracles and revelations. So if on our quiet day we impress this on our minds and follow out this line of thought we shall dispose of this first objection to the Resurrection, that it cannot be true because it was miraculous. This is all not otherwise than reasonable. God is the Creator of all things that are, and this is a miracle, therefore miracles are possible. It follows, if great miracles are possible, that the Resurrection is possible. Now, let us see whether there is any evidence for this wonderful fact, for it wants great evidence to believe in such a stupendous miracle.
As a preliminary, let me say that it is a truth worth pondering on, that the most profound truths, the things we know best and are most sure of, these (we may be sure) are just the things we shall have the greatest difficulty in giving an account of. If you were asked, "Why do you believe in, and what do you mean by your own person, your own identity?" what would you say? "I know that I am--I am certain that I exist, I am sure that I am the same person I was ten, or twenty, or thirty, or forty years ago, but to put down plainly what my identity is, is very hard, if it is possible. Yet I am not more sure of anything than I am of my own identity."
So with other things of which I am most sure. We get proof by the consent of different lines of evidence, just as the effect of a building is found by the different lines in architecture, or the character is found in the person we love most. We cannot tell what it is we love in those we love most of all--father, mother, wife, child. Think of the one we love most completely--you cannot tell what it is, or why you love them so much. If you were asked suddenly "Why do you love your mother?" you would say, "Oh, I can't tell you; because she is my mother," and then you could say no more. If you had time to think you would say, "Yes, there are a few things I can tell you--there is a reason," and if pressed to put your reason down on paper you would find at last that you could go on and on, and talk, and talk, and talk about it. But things of which we are most sure, and love most, we shall find most difficult to give reasons for when asked, because we have laid hold of them in all parts of our being, not only in one part--brilliant as that one part may be. It is not only an intellectual knowledge that we have of these known and loved truths. Therefore we find it difficult to give reasons why we believe them.
Then don't be discouraged if when you are asked why you believe in God, or in the Resurrection, or in the existence of the soul, don't be frightened if you can't instantly give an answer. This is worth reflecting on, on a quiet day. Things which are most certain, most precious, and most dear, because of their relation to the whole being, cannot be accounted for suddenly, by one organ only, like the mind.
But, my sisters and brothers in Christ, I desire to offer you three lines of thought, on which you may dwell profitably, as conducing to form one distinct chain of evidence as to the Resurrection of our Lord.
Firstly. The nature of some of the evidence of the fact of the Resurrection itself.
Secondly. The connection of the fact of the Resurrection with Christianity as a whole.
Thirdly. The connection of the fact of the Resurrection with the moral character of our Lord.
These three lines of thought I will ask you to dwell upon. The nature of some of the evidence of the fact of the Resurrection itself. The connection of the fact of the Resurrection with Christianity as a whole, and the connection of the fact of the Resurrection with the moral character of our Lord.
As to the nature of the evidence of the fact of the Resurrection. You are doubtless aware that it has been part of the attempt of what is called the negative criticism of the day to throw doubt on many books of the Bible. Mind, I do not say because they have been doubted I therefore think they are doubtful. Try and lay hold of that simple, but valuable truth. Because a thing is doubted it is not necessarily doubtful. If you tell me of something which you did yesterday, and I doubt your word, it is I who am the liar, not you. The fact that you did the thing is not doubtful because I refuse to believe it and ask for proof. Get it well into your mind and get accustomed to the fact, that doubting a thing does not make it false.
People have tried to disparage many books of the Bible, and we will put those books aside. They leave us these four Epistles of S. Paul: the two Epistles to the Corinthians, the Epistle to the Romans, and the Epistle to the Galatians. Do not misunderstand me. I think that the outcome of all the criticism of S. John's Gospel is only to prove its claim upon us to be more clear and true, but let us take this morning only the books they grant us, the very weakest standpoint, and then see what evidence we can gather from these Epistles, so that when you are asked, you can show in these Epistles plain evidence for the Resurrection.
First, take Galatians I. I, "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, Who raised Him from the dead."
There is a plain statement in this letter of S. Paul, which all adverse criticism has not been able to put aside.
Here is another plain statement. In 2 Corinthians iv. 14, "Knowing this, that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you."
Look at Chapter v. 15 of the same Epistle, "That they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again." 'Tis a plain assertion--"Him which died for them and rose again." And as in the letter to the Galatians, and the second letter to the Corinthians, so there are many passages in the Epistle to the Romans. Take Romans iv. 25, "Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification."
And Chapter vi. 9, "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more." The apostle speaks of Christ being raised--the Living Christ--he isn't writing of a spirit.
Take that glorious conclusion to Chapter viii. "Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us."
And as you have seen in these passages, so you well know that familiar chapter, I Corinthians xv. All agree that this Epistle was written in the spring of the year 58, twenty-five years after our Lord's death. The writer mentions the Death and Resurrection of Christ as in accordance with the requirements of Holy Scripture.
"He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures." He was plainly speaking of this event as involving the truth of the old prophecies and the old types. He then proceeds to give six separate sources of witness to the evidence of His having risen. First to Cephas--S. Peter--then to the twelve altogether; then to five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, and any one might have asked them to deny the fact had they wanted to; then to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all to S. Paul himself. Now consider the character of S. Paul. It requires us to admit that he was a man of strong common sense. Unless a man is a fool he would not write a letter in which he asserts plain facts and appeals to living witnesses if he was not sure of what he said. He was not writing history, remember, but a letter, to be read then and there. Reflect upon this, and put away all thought of misgiving as to the evidence. These letters admit more than enough.
There is another line of evidence we will take--though all this is strong exercise, it may be hard work to some of you, yet the exercise should strengthen both your mind and your faith, and be really an "exercise unto godliness."
The next line of evidence is the connection of the fact of the Resurrection with the whole scheme of Christianity. I will put it very shortly. Christianity has been before the world nearly 1900 years. It is beyond dispute that it has had a marvellously beneficial influence over a very extended area, and has raised the whole standard of morality to heights unknown to the heathen world, or to the most advanced thinkers of the eastern world. It has raised woman into a position which she knew not before. People have realized the brotherhood of humanity in a way not understood before. Art and literature have been raised and adorned with manifold beauties, and all these benefits are the results of Christianity. It is past controversy that Christianity has had wonderfully beneficial results, and it is beyond controversy that Christianity was accepted in earliest days, and spread, on account of a belief in a living, risen Saviour. It is based on the apostles who bore witness to the Resurrection of Christ. The martyrs were witnesses of this very thing. What then are we to believe? That all this wonderful influence, which rests upon the fact of the Resurrection of Christ, stands upon a delusion? That all this wonderful raising of humanity is the result of a lie, that it rests on nothing at all? It cannot be. The fact of the Resurrection does not stand by itself, but, as a matter of history, it is connected with Christianity as a whole, and we have seen that it can be true, if we have gone on steadily through the argument--that the possibility of the miracle follows logically on the existence of God.
The third line of evidence to the fact of the Resurrection is from the moral character of our Lord. It is one of the delusions of the present day, one of the deceits of the evil one who can transfer himself into a beautiful angel of light to deceive men and women, to ask us to accept the moral character of Jesus as most beautiful and attractive, and yet to deny, or to say nothing about, His Godhead. It is impossible, dear people, honestly, reasonably and logically, to do that. Look, this Passion-tide, to see if our Lord did not appeal to His own miracles, and lead people to believe that He had opened the eyes of the blind? Could He make people believe that Lazarus was dead, and had been four days dead? Did He mean to take them in, or to do what He said? If we believe in the moral beauty of the character of Christ we must believe that He was sincere, and the sincerity of Christ stands or falls with the reality of miracles. And remember, it is not only a supernatural power that He claims, but very divinity, for He said, "I and My Father are One." And He was condemned to death--remember this at Passion-tide--before the high court of the Jews, because He made Himself the Son of God. Did He claim what was not true? There would be an end to His moral character, to His tenderness, sincerity, truth, attractiveness, if this be so. Unless we grant Him supernatural power He cannot be even a good man. We must either despise or worship. There is no calm standing point between the two, and as the truth of the Lord working miracles is bound up with His moral character, so is the Resurrection, for He led His disciples to understand that He would rise again from the dead. For when He said, "Destroy this temple, and after three days I will raise it up," it is added, "but He spake of the temple of His Body." Was Jesus, then, deceitful, or did He mean what He said? When He came to them and said, "Behold My Hands and My Feet that it is I Myself," what did He mean? When he said He was alive again, was He trying to make them believe a delusion? If so, His moral character is gone. He must have been a deceiver, or else have risen from the dead.
In the vision of the beloved apostle He speaks of Himself. "I am He that was dead and is alive again." It must be either false or true. On this quiet day it will be of great advantage to you to bring home to yourselves the falseness of this gentle praise of the moral character of Jesus, for it is against all the true principles of ethics, unless we go much further, and admit His Divinity, and the fact of His Resurrection, for this is bound up with the whole scheme of Christianity, and, as we have seen, with the moral character of our Lord.
So you see where I leave you this morning. I hope to go on this afternoon. Forgive me if I have made you uncomfortable in speaking only of things which you know so well. We are bound to contribute one to another the little gifts God has bestowed upon us. It has been my constant labour for the past few years to think of these things, and I have tried, and I trust not in vain, to offer you that which I know. And for that knowledge I thank God more than for the fact of my own existence, for I would not care to exist, if I could not exist in the eternal companionship of His unspeakable love!