Text St. Luke 24:4-6
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead: He is not here, but is risen.
'And' to-day, the day 'it came to pass.' This the day wherein this great perplexity both rose and was resolved. It rose from the not seeing 'the body of Jesus' in the grave. It was resolved by the hearing here, he was risen thence.
Thus rise the great perplexities still, and thus they are resolved. From the miss of Christ, which way soever, truly or falsely conceived by us, they come, and at the very hearing of him again they vanish. To be sure, they sat not at all after he 'is risen,' and we hear it; and God will not let it be long before we hear it; he will not suffer those to be long perplexed that seek Christ heartily, affectionately, and devoutly, though with some error in their heads--as here, poor souls, they has--if they have no wickedness in their hearts, and spices and ointments, good works and charity, in their hands. Some angel or other shall be sent to them ere long, to pacify their troubled thoughts, to disperse their fears, and raise up their drooping heads.
[83/84] 'Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, with other women,' found it so to-day. And to-day also, and from this day now forward, shall we so find it too, if we seek our Lord but with that affection, that holy fear, that humility, as they; so humbly bowing down our faces, so 'afraid,' to miss of him, so 'perplexed' when he is from us.
This is a day when perplexities cannot stay, fears cannot tarry with us, our heads cannot long hand down; the news of it is so full of gladness, of comfort, and of joy. At the rising of this day's Sun of righteousness, our perplexities pass away as the clouds before the sun; our tears melt as the dew before it; and we turn up our heads like flowers to the sunbeams. It is a day the fullest of all good tidings,--as the seal and assurance of all the good news we heard before it. The Angels fly every where about to-day, even into the grave, with comfortable messages. 'Why weepest thou?' says one, 'Fear not,' says another, 'Why seek you among the dead?' says a third. What do you at the grave?--'he is risen,' says the whole choir; he whose rising is all your risings, who is your Saviour now complete, and the lifter up of all your heads; and go but in to Galilee and you shall see him.
But this only hearing of him must for this time content us; we shall one day see Him as he is; till then, if we hear of him with our ears, and feel him in our hearts, and see him in our conceits; if so hear as to believe him risen, and our hearts listen to it (for the heart has two ears as well as the head,--nature has given to it such a form as has been observed in the dissections, -to teach us that our hearts within us, as well as our ears without us, are to give ear to him that made, to him that saves them), if they do, we need not be least perplexed for not visibly seeing him. All believers that then were did not see him so; 500, indeed, we read of all at once; but they were not all that were believers: 'Not to all,' says S. Peter, expressly, 'but unto witnesses chosen before of God.' There is a blessedness, and it seems, by the manner of speaking, somewhat greater, for them 'that have not seen, and yet have believed.'
Be we then content to-day to hear that he is risen, with the first news and tidings of it. From a good mouth [84/85] it comes, to good souls it comes, in good time it comes; from the mouths of angels to good women, and very seasonably, when they were, much perplexed, much afraid, and much cast down for want of such a message. And though we cannot here see Christ as we desire, yet be we pleased to see ourselves, our own sad condition upon the loss of him, in these women's perplexities, fears and downcast looks,--our way to see him,--solicitiously, much perplexed, to want him, as they, in the text. And that we may not give up our hope, be afraid, or cast down for ever, look we upon the bright shining garments of the 2 angels here (for these men are no less) -it is a joyful sight,--and rejoice at the good success that always follows them that so seek him--Angels and good news. The women found it here--heard the good news from the Angels' lips. You must be content to hear it from mine; yet you know who says it, Angelus Domini exercitum est; 'the priest is the angel' or messenger--that is enough 'of the Lord of hosts;' too much for me, poor sinful wretch. But look not upon me, but upon them that here first told the news, and see it in the text these three particulars:-
I. The sad condition, for a while, of those that either are without or cannot find their Saviour, Christ, in three particulars: they are 'perplexed' they are 'afraid,' they 'bow down their faces to the earth,' they go all the while with downcast looks.
II. The only ready way to find him, after a while, by being here 'perplexed' for his loss and absence, by being afraid 'afraid to miss him,' by looking everywhere, up and down, to find him, or news of him; going pouring up and down, looking where we looked before, and casting down, not our faces, but ourselves also 'to the earth' in all humility, to search after him.
III. The good success, at last, of them that thus diligently, reverently, and humbly seek him, in three points more: to see Angels, to be directed right, and be made partakers of the joyful news of a resurrection, of Christ's resurrection by them, who is both the ground of ours, and the first-fruits of them that arise.
[85/86] The sum of all this-, That though it sometimes fall out to us that we lose Christ, or cannot find him for awhile, and so fall into perplexities and fears, and go up and down dejected, with down casts looks, yet if we so seek him with a solicitious love, a reverent fear, and humble diligence, we shall meet Angels, after a while, to comfort us and bring us news of our beloved Lord, and find him risen or rising in us ere we are aware. And the close of all will be our duty, and the duty of the day, 1. to make ourselves sensible of the perplexed and sad estate of those that are without Christ, who have lost him in the grave, or know not where he is, or how to find him; and thereupon, 2. so set ourselves to seek him that we may be sure at last to hear of him, and be made partakers of his resurrection.
It is a glad day, I confess; yet I begin with the gloomy morn that seemed to usher it in to these poor women -, their sadness upon the imagined loss of their dear Lord, truly representing to us the sad condition of those who are deprived of Christ, or think they are so. The glory of the day will appear brighter by this morning cloud; the news of the resurrection will be the welcomer when we first see what poor, troubled, frighted, dejected pieces we are without it; we will have the higher thoughts of him, now risen, when we feel how disconsolate a thing it is to be without him, even without his body here, though dead and buried.
'And it came to pass, says the text, that they were perplexed thereabout;' and it will quickly come to pass that the best of us all will be perplexed to lose anything of our Lord's, much more his body, if we love him. They were good souls, such whose devotion and affection death itself could neither quench nor alter, that were so here, that we might know even devout and pious souls may both err concerning Christ, and sometimes want him too; seek him sometimes, with these here, where he is not, where we falsely imagine him to be, and not find him presently neither, when we look for him where we left him.
No wonder they here, poor women, were so perplexed. Men, the great St. Peter, knew not what to say to it; 'departed, wondering.' Indeed, it seems a wonder at the first, that such who love Christ so dearly seek him so early, should [86/87] yet miss of him; that such, too, should be in so great an error about him, as to think the Lord of life could be held in death; but so poor a thing is man, that, as, as such, he is perpetually subject to error and mistake, and may thereupon easily lose the sight and presence of his Lord. The Spouse, in the Canticles, complains her 'beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone' she 'sought him, but could not find him; she called to him, but he gave her no answer;' and thereupon tells the 'daughters of Jerusalem' that she is 'sick of love;' that is, so perplexed and troubled at his absence that she is not able to hold up her head any longer, no more than these are here.
Nothing certainly but doubts and perplexities can involve us when we have either lost our love or fear it; to be sure, nothing but doubts when we have lost him who is the only truth that can resolve us; nothing but perplexed ways when we have lost him who is 'he way.'Which way can we resolve on, when our way is gone? What can we think can hold him whom the grave cannot? If in a sealed sepulchre, under a mighty stone, the dead body be not safe, where can we think to sit down insecurity?
To lose a token or remembrance of a friend's, how are we troubled! but to have his body stolen out of the sepulchre, his grave rifled, ands his ashes violated, how impatiently would we take it! You cannot blame them for being much perplexed for so great a loss.
I shall show it greater in the mystery. The body is the Church; and to have that taken from us, the Church, that glorious candlestick removed, and borne away we know not whither, what good soul is there that must not necessarily be perplexed at it? What way shall we take when they have taken away that which is the pillar of the truth and should lend us in it? What way shall we take when they have taken away the pillar of truth, and should lead us in it? Whither shall we go when we know not whither that is gone, where they have laid it, or where to find it? Poor ignorant women, nay, and men, too, may well now wander in uncertainties--as they do--full of doubts and perplexities, full of cares and troubled thoughts which way to take, what religion to run to, what to leave, and what to follow, seeing the body--to which the eagles used to flock, the most-eagles eyed, the most subtle and learned used to be p.88 gathered--is removed away and we have nothing to gather to, scarce a place to be gathered together in. Well may we now fear what will become of us, and what God means to do to us, how he intends to deal with us, having thus suffered our Lord to be taken from us. 'Afraid' they were that they had lost him quite. I pray God we may have no cause to fear the same fear. When Christ was but asleep, the Apostles were afraid at a blast of wind that rose, and 'cry out they perish,' whilst he but sleeps. Anything scares us, if Christ watch not over us; not the visions only of the night, but the very noises of the day; any light air or report affrights us and blows us which way it please,--to any side, any faction out of fear. What hold, then, is there of us--what little thing will not scare us when he is absent quite? When his body, the Church, is removed from us, where can we stay our wavering souls, or fix our trembling feet? Christ was no sooner dead and gone, but away run all his disciples into a room together, and shut up themselves, 'for fear of the Jews,' so coward-like and faint- hearted are well when the Captain of our salvation is slain before us; nor can it be other, all 'our life' being 'hid in him,' and all our spirit only from his presence.
'Part of the women's fear, was the sight and congress of the angels. Even Angels themselves do but scare us if the Lord of the Angels be not by us. Nay, even God himself is but a terror to us, and a 'consuming fire,' without Christ; it is with him only, under the shadow and shelter of his wings, that we dare approach that inaccessible light, that consuming fire. Lost we Christ, and we lose all our confidence in heaven, all the ways of access to heavenly things, all the pleasure and comfort of them; we are nothing but agues, and fears, and frights,--not courage enough even to look up; we, with these perplexed souls, go bowing down our faces to the earth.
'Thou didst hide thou face from me,' says holy David, 'and I was troubled,' the very hiding of God's face sore troubled him. What think you to hide his whole body would do then? Why, then he goes 'mourning all the day long' So did the two disciples that went to Emmaus: they walked sadly and talked sadly, and looked sadly, like men [88/89] disconsolate and forlorn, such as were ashamed to show their faces in the city, after this was come to pass; durst not look anybody in the face upon it. Alas! how could it be otherwise with them? All their hope was gone: he that they looked should have redeemed Israel could not redeem himself, nay, his body stolen out of the grave, and conveyed they knew not whither. Well may they bow down their faces to the earth, having now little hope above in heaven, he being gone and lost by whom they only hoped and expected it.
Indeed, if he be either so gone from us that we have no hope to find him, or he be found in that condition in which there is no hope,--as there is none in a dead Saviour, wherever he be,--no wonder if our faces then bend wholly to the earth, if we look no further. Let us take our portion in this life, for we are like to have no other; without Christ, and Christ 'risen' too, hither it is we fall, no looking higher, not an eye to heaven, so much as in a prayer, if we have not per Dominum Jesus, Christ Jesus at the end of it; in and through whom only we can with confidence look for a blessing thence, and without whom at the end the prayer is to no end or purpose.
11. Yet in as sad a condition as this we speak of, we are not utterly without hope if we again look upon the words at a second view. For now, they as well decipher to us the condition of those that seek as of those that have lost their Lord and Master. We may be as much 'perplexed' in our search as at our loss, as 'afraid' to miss as startled at our loss, as well 'bow down our faces to the earth' in seeking as in sorrowing. And thus in the second view of the text it is.
1. They had lost their Master's body, and were now not only troubled at the loss, but how to find it, where to look it. Surely, take but away his body--the Church, and the wisest of us will scarce know to find him; one will run this way, another that way, after him; one will stand weeping at the sepulchre, and think that a sad melancholy posture and business is religion only; another will run thence from the sepulchre as fast as he can, and think the finding Christ so easy a business that it does require a groan or a sigh; others will be walking to Emmaus, up and down, now [89/90] to one sect, now to another, and from Jerusalem, most commonly, from the city of peace, out of the bonds of unity, every one by himself, which way pleases him, if Christ's body,--the Church, be once removed out of our sight. Our best way is, with the disciples, into our chambers altogether till we can get a better place, with all the company we can make, to our devotions and our prayers; or if we will step out a awhile to the sepulchre, let it but to pay a tear upon it, to vent our troubled souls, to express how we are troubled at our sins that have made us lose our Lord, or at our negligence that he is slipped from us whilst we were asleep, lulled in soft pleasures; or at our slowness, that we come so late to seek him that he is gone before we come. This is so to seek as to be 'perplexed thereabout,' and there is no true seeking him without it.
But 2. with fear too we are to seek him; 'with reverence and godly fear,' that the only acceptable service and seeking of him 'with fear and trembling,' no hope either of Saviour or salvation without it. 'Afraid,' of the 'two men in shining garments' they were here, and if Angels, habited like men too and in so cheerful attire, be so terrible, what think you is that excellent Majesty: if we cannot see those our 'fellow-servants' as they style themselves, without fear (for we seldom read of the appearing of an Angel but either coming or going he strikes some terror) how say some among us, that in the approaches to God we need not be afraid? Alas, deluded souls! they conceive not God, or Christ, as either of them should be conceived; they neither seriously consider the majesty of God or Christ, nor their unworthiness, nor how hard a thing it is to find Christ, that are not afraid either to miss him in the search by their unskilfulness, or lose him by their sins. He that looks to be comforted by an Angel must not think much to be afraid, how great a claim soever he conceives in Christ. 'Perfect love,' indeed, says the Apostle, 'casts out fear,' but it is servile fear and no other. Mary Magdalene to whom Christ bears witness that she loved much, yet she also is 'afraid.' The more for that she loved so much,--for the more we love, the more we fear to lose the thing we love; the more we love, the more we fear to offend the person [90/91] whom we love, nay, the more we fear to miss; and the more earnest we are to seek, the more likely are we to find what or whoever we set to seek for. Seek him with filial fear, or love and fear; that is the second.
3. Yet if we seek Christ, we must also, thirdly, seek him with our 'faces bowed down to the ground; and that is i. the fashion of those that seek him earnestly; and so he must be sought with all the earnestness we can.
And it is ii. a token of diligence in the search, much like that of the poor woman that sort her groat, that lighted a candle, swept her house, raked in the dust, looked into every corner, peered into every chink to find it. Do we so in seeking Christ light up the candle of faith kindled from the flame of love; sweep we the houses of our souls with the bosom of repentance; look we into our dust, consider what we are made of, what poor dusty things we are; ransack every corner of our hearts, every cranny of our thoughts, that so we may, if not find him there, yet make all clean for him against he comes; and we shall commonly find he will come gliding in when we think not of it, we shall hear of something rising in our dust after we have so raise it, by the breaking and contritions of repentance.
And it is iii. the posture of humility, and of the humbler he will be found; they shall not miss of him whoever do; to them his grace, to them his ways, to them his dwelling. The lower we bow down before him the higher will he lift us up.
And lastly, the face bowed down to the earth is the look of them that mourn: we must seek him as his father and mother did; seek him sorrowing, sorry that we have been so long without him, that we so carelessly lost him; then, after a day or two, we shall; be sure to find him; nay, if our sorrow begins, as here in the morning of the day, if we begin betimes to be exceeding sorrowful, the morning shall not pass ere we hear at least some tidings of him: nay, we shall not stir from the grave, but we shall hear it ere we go; some good Angel or other shall bring us some glad message or other from him, and tell us where he is. So it follows, 'as they were perplexed, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and [91/92] bowed down their faces to the earth,' this news they tell them, that ' he is risen.'
'God never faileth them that seek him,' says the Psalmist, never them that seek him as these did, with careful and troubled souls, such he never does refuse; 'with reverence and godly fear,' such he never does reject--with earnestness, with diligence, with humility, with godly sorrow, those he visits presently either by himself or by his Angel.
And, which is very observable, and as comfortable, 'as they were perplexed, and as they were afraid, and bowed down,' says the text, that is even when they began to be so, before their perplexities had misled them, or their fears undone them, or their faces licked the earth; as they began only to hang their heads, and their spirits began to faint, and their souls to be troubled, two men on a sudden, whence they cannot tell, and which way they came there they knew not; but there they stand to disperse both their sorrows and their fears by what they have to tell them. Three grand points we observe in this apparition of the Angels, to make that great success that those who faithfully and devoutly seek Christ may promise themselves upon it.
1. They see a vision of Angels. It is their good hap ever to meet blessed spirits who seek the Lord of spirits, to meet them here, to be with them ever hereafter, to meet one or two of them here at times, to meet ten thousand times ten thousand of them hereafter.
To meet them here i. even at the sepulchre in the midst of sorrow, even then to receive comfort from them, even in the grave, in our greatest afflictions.
To meet them ii. like 'young men' so says S. Mark, sprightly, and able to defend us.
To meet them iii. in 'shining garments tokens of some exceeding joy and gladness, which we may expect, and shall find from them.
To meet them iv. 'Standing' by us, that is, ever ready to comfort and assist us.
To meet v. 'two' of them together, not one single comforter alone, but comfort upon comfort, deliverance upon deliverance, spiritual and temporal, one at the right hand and another at our left.
[92/93] But lastly, vi. hereafter to be sure we shall meet them in full choirs, when we rise out of our sepulchres, then like 'young men' indeed, both they and we, then to be always so, never die again, never grow old, nor our garments neither, but have them always shining.
2. The next point of the good success is to receive direction from them. Two parts of it there are : first, to recall us from the wrong, and then, secondly, to set us right.
'Why seek you the living among the dead? he is not here;' that is the correction of our judgments and affections. 'He is risen,' that is the setting them to be right.
For a traveller, when he is out of the way, to be told he is so, is a thing any of us would take well; and when we are straggling out of the way of heaven, going out of that safe, and fair, and happy way into the bogs of the world, and mires of lusts and ditches of hell, to have an Angel, 'one of a thousand' as Job speaks, but a messenger of the Lord of hosts to call out to us that we are wrong, is certainly a happiness if we understood it; and such God sends always to them that seek him truly, if they will but turn their heads at the call and look after him. Well, but what says he that so calls out to us, why 'seek you the living among the dead?' What is that?
i. They 'seek the living among the dead,' that seek salvation by the law of Moses, long since dead and buried.
ii. They 'seek the living among the dead' that seek it by the works of nature, by the power of them: nature without grace is dead Verebar omnia opera mea says holy Job, there is not in us one poor work to trust to.
ii. They 'seek the living among the dead' that seek salvation, that think to be saved by a mere outward holiness, by the outward body of religion without the inward life, by forms of godliness, whether they be merely ceremonial performances of religion, or great shows and pretences of godliness without the power of it in their lives and conversations.
i. They, lastly, 'seek the living among the dead,' that seek Christ upon worldly interests, that take up their religion upon by -respects, that do it for carnal or worldly affections. But, say the Angels, 'he is not here.' Christ is not here; Christ the Saviour is not, that is, our salvation is not to be [93/94] found in the law of Moses or by the law of works, or in mere external performances or great pretences, or in worldly and carnal hearts,--they are but graves and sepulchres all, which we to much and too often bury our souls in, and stand weeping by, and are much perplexed at if we cannot find it there, but must be forced from thence to a new search, as here the women are to leave these kinds of seeking, all of them, and betake us now to think of him as risen thence. For so the angel says he is: 'he is risen.' And in this he both tells us what to conceive of him, and at the same time to put off all our perplexities, and tears, and sorrows to rejoice with him. 'He is risen.'
'Risen' i. and not raised; others, indeed, have been raise form death, the Sareptan's child, the widow's son, one of these, Mary's brother, Lazarus, but none 'risen' but he: he raised himself, they did not so; he raised them all,must raise us all too, will raise us by his resurrection. For,
'Risen' that is, ii. his body risen, that is, we members of it to have part also in his resurrection; for if our head be risen the members also will follow after.
Must iii. in the interim follow him, so raise our thoughts above the earth as to seek him now above; to seek those things which are above; that is it the Angel directs us to, by telling us 'he is risen,' so pointing us where now to fix our thoughts, to leave the sepulchre to bemoan itself, to cast off all the ways and paths of death, to throw off all worldly perplexities, fears, and sorrows; or, in the midst of them, to take a ray at least from their 'shining garments' and put on the looks of joy and gladness. This both the direction they give us and the joy they make us partakers of.
To tell us 'he is risen' whom we seek, he is alive whom we bemoan for dead; he that is our head, our hope, our love, our life, our joy, our comfort, our crown of rejoicing, he in whom we trusted, we may trust still, hope still, joy in him still, for 'he is risen' and alive.
That is the close we are now to make to-day, that the answer we are to give to Angels' speech, that the application of the text; to make it full, run we once more over it.
Grow we, then, first, as sensible as we can of our sad condition without Christ, how the grace,--the last place of rest [94/95] from all troubles--has nothing in it without him; how our souls cannot be at quiet without him; how our hearts cannot but tremble when he is gone, our spirits faint, our faces look sad and heavy, dull and earthy, when he is from us. Let us upon this set down and weep and be troubled, and tremble at it, that we may not at any time give him occasion henceforward to desert us, or leave us comfortless at the grave, but send his angels thither to direct and to conduct us to his joyful presence.
When we are thus made sensible what we are without him, we then, secondly, certainly will make after him with all care and reverence, all earnestness and diligence, all humility and devout repentance, and truly humbled for our sins that drove him from us; perplexed to lose him, fearful to offend him, vigilant to seek him, that so at last we may recover him; for you see he is recovered from the grave, and may be again be by us recovered to our souls.
This the duty both our own necessities and the opportunity of this great day require of us.
The business we are next to go about exacts as much. We are with these women come here to seek the Lord's body, and I shall anon give you news of greater joy than here the Angels said the women. They say 'he is not here, but he is risen,' I say but 'he is risen, and is here' will be here by and by in his very body. Your eye cannot see him, but your souls may there see and taste him too.
'Lift up then your heads, O ye immortal gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, that the king of Glory may come in. Look up and lift up your heads, for your salvation draweth nigh. Bow down your faces no longer to the earth' but neither look here as to an earthly business. Look not sad but cheerful now to-day, (I hope you have looked sadly enough already in your chambers upon your sins), you may here put on another face. Yet it you be somewhat 'perplexed' and troubled at your sins or 'afraid' of your unworthiness, or your souls and bodies bowed down as low as can be in humility,--I shall say you are the fitter to receive your joys, and to be made partakers of the Angels' company, which, as the Apostle tells us, are present in holy [95/96] places; and if ever there, there more especially, at so great a mystery as this, which they themselves bow down themselves to look into, and wing about us, says the Fathers, to assist the celebration all the while, you will be the fitter too to receive the joyful news that this day brings us, of Christ's rising; being only so cast down and prepared in all humility to receive it.
Yet learn we something from the Angels too, as well as from the women: for 'behold' says the text, as it it meant we should look upon them too, and learn by their standing, constancy, and resolution, by their clothing in 'shining garments' purity, and innocence, and all good works, whereby we are so to shine as to glorify 'our Father which is in heaven,' by their correcting the good women's error, to correct our own, and not let our brother either perish or go astray for want of good and timely admonition,--a prime work of charity which this business so requires; by their advice, no longer to 'seek the living among the dead,' no more to seek Christ for earthly profits or respects; and by their so rapidly publishing the news of Christ's rising, to be this day every telling it, every day thinking of it, and so living as if we believed a resurrection.
So shall it come to pass that however we come, we shall not depart perplexed, but in peace; not in fear, but in hope; not in sorrow, but in joy; and shall one day behold him risen, whom we now only hear is, and meet him with all his Angels 'in shining garments' in the robes of eternal glory.
He who this day rose, raise now our thoughts with these apprehensions, raise our thoughts to the height of these heavenly mysteries, make us this day partakers through them of his resurrection, by grace, and in his due time also, of his resurrection in glory.