Project Canterbury

Canon Liddon: A Memoir
With the Four Sermons Preached at St. Paul's Cathedral in April
And His Last Sermon Preached at St. Mary's, Oxford on Whitsunday

London: "The Family Churchman Office," 1890.


(Preached in St. Paul's Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, the 6th April, being Easter Day, 1890.)

Romans i. 3, 4.

"Who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead."

A great festival of the Christian Church like Easter appears to have one drawback attending it from which days of less importance are comparatively free. It offers so much to think about that, unless we try to make some one of the lessons which it teaches our own, it may pass us by without leaving us any the wiser or better for taking part in it. The rays of, truth which flash forth from a fact like the Resurrection of our Lord are so many and so bright that if we do not fix our minds upon some one of them, and do what we may to understand its importance, we may only be dazzled into bewilderment by the splendid whole, and may carry away with us nothing that afterwards will shape our thoughts or influence our lives.

And here St. Paul comes to our assistance by suggesting at the beginning of his greatest Epistle a point which may well engage attention, namely: the bearing of the Resurrection on the Divinity of our Lord. Leaving other things, the Resurrection, he tells us, did this: it threw a special light on the highest nature of Jesus Christ,--"He was declared to be the Son of God with power by the Resurrection from the dead."

Now, let us note for a moment that in the passage before us St. Paul summarily describes the contents of the Gospel, and says it was wholly concerned with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with two facts about Him more especially. The first fact--that He was really man, with a human body and a [13/14] human soul. This was clear from His being a member of a particular and well-known Jewish family. "According to the flesh"--that is, in respect of His human nature--He was born of the seed of David. The second fact--that, although man, He was more than man. "According to the spirit of holiness"--that is, in respect of His higher and superhuman nature--"He was declared to be the Son of God." The phrase "according to the spirit of holiness," in the second clause, corresponds to and contrasts with the phrase "according to the flesh" in the first clause; and, as the flesh in this passage certainly means human nature, and not, as often, the corrupt or animalised principle of human nature, so "the spirit of holiness" means, not the Third person in the Godhead, "Who sanctifies us," but the higher or Divine nature of Christ, somewhat vaguely described, and set over against His human nature. For this less common use of the word "spirit" we have a warrant in two other passages of the New Testament at least, and the resulting sense is that, as our Lord was seen to be truly man by the fact of His birth in the family of David, so the true import and character of His higher nature became apparent when He rose from the dead.

Here, then, is opened to us a subject of the highest interest on this the greatest of Christian festivals, when the Church throughout the world stands around the empty sepulchre proclaiming that Christ is risen from the dead. For here" we are taught by the Apostle to think of that Resurrection not only as the reversal of the humiliation and defeat which had preceded it, not only as the certificate of the mission of the greatest Teacher of religion to mankind, but as something more--as a declaration, or, more precisely, a definition, of what in respect of His superhuman nature Christ our Lord really was and is. The Resurrection was not only a wonder, it was an instruction, it was a means of making it plain to all who had spiritual eyes to see that He Who rose was much more that the first of Prophets and Apostles, that He was not less than the only-begotten Son of God, Who had shared God's throne and His nature from all eternity.

That which the Apostle's words may, first of all, suggest to us is the importance of events. He attributes, you observe, to a single event the power of setting forth a great truth, just as though the event were a speaker or a book. [14/15] "Christ," he says, "was declared to be the Son of God by the Resurrection from the dead." Undoubtedly, brethren, events are for God what language is for man; they are the means whereby God reveals His mind and will. Events are the language of God written on the pages of human history, whether it be the history of a man, or of a family, or of a nation, or of the world. Just as God's eternal power and Godhead are, according to the Apostle, clearly understood by a reverent study of the book of nature--"the things that are made," as he calls it--so the judgments which are formed in the Divine mind on men, on families, on nations, are discoverable in the book of human history, since they are written in that language of events. This of course must appear an unreasonable statement to those who imagine that all that happens to mankind--birth and death, sickness and health, good and bad seasons, national prosperity and national decline--are the result of bad forces, existing--why we know not, wherefore we know not, but which have, it seems, somehow given us existence, only that, like the sea-weed that is tossed this way or that on the surf of the waves, we may illustrate their relentless power, and our own abject helplessness.

But it will not appear unreasonable to any man who sincerely believes in a living God, in a God Whose rules of working are not His masters, nor yet powers which, after owing to Him their being, have somehow escaped from His control, but only the free manifestation of Himself, of that order which is the rule of His life, Who Himself is everywhere present, everywhere and incessantly intelligent and at work, so that by Him "the hairs of our head are all numbered," and without Him "not a sparrow falls to the ground." To believe in a living God is to believe that events which He brings about or permits are a declaration of His mind; but then, whether the characters in which the mind is thus declared are always legible by man, or by all men, is quite another question. Sometimes, indeed, they are written in a familiar alphabet, their meaning is so clear that all men may read it.

All who believe that the world is governed by a moral God understand what was meant by the fall of Babylon, by the capture of Rome by Alaric, by the close of the career of Napoleon. Sometimes they are written in characters as wholly [15/16] unintelligible to all living men as were the Egyptian hieroglyphics half a century ago, though they may be read by the higher intelligences around the throne of Heaven, or they may be read hereafter on earth, for all that we know, by highly, endowed souls. And in the Book of History there is much writing of this kind which eludes the efforts of man's inquisitive and constant gaze. But sometimes also the meaning of God's writing in events is hidden from the mass of men at first sight, but becomes plain to them when the key of its interpretation has been given them by some competent instructor, like the "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin" traced on the wall of the banqueting chamber of the eastern monarch, the sense of which was plain when a Daniel had been summoned to decipher it. Of such handwriting as this, too, history is full; but we must not linger on it, since we have to fix our attention on one great sample, or one particular event,--the Resurrection of our Lord.

Now, that a strictly supernatural occurrence, such as the Resurrection of our Lord, would have a special meaning or several meanings is surely an obvious supposition. The strange thing would be if such an event should occur without any purpose or meaning at all; and St. Paul tells us what, in his inspired judgment, one such meaning was: it was to declare that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

Endeavour, my brethren, to think what sort of impression would be created in your minds if, after following to the grave one whom you had dearly loved for many years, after listening to the last office of the Church, and watching the sod as it was thrown in upon the coffin, you should see that same friend or relative enter your room with the old look, the well-known figure and expression, the accustomed voice, remaining just long enough to assure you that he was here again, and then passing swiftly away to comfort and encourage some other mourner. And yet this is in substance what did happen to Mary Magdalene, to the holy women, to Peter, to James, to the two disciples, to the ten on the day of our Lord's rising from the dead. Such events could not but be of great significance, even if the risen one should not utter a word. The very appearance of such a visitor would be pregnant with meaning, it would declare a good deal that at first we should find it hard to put in words about the unseen world and this, about life and death, about the ways of God, about the destiny [16/17] of man. You will allow this and much more. "But why," you may ask, "why should our Lord's Resurrection have the higher and particular effect of declaring Him to be the Son of God?" Others, you may well urge, had visited the realms of death and had returned to life, who were not declared by this awful experience to be the Divine Son. We need not travel beyond the records of the Gospel history in order to meet with the widow's son at Nain, and with Lazarus at Bethany. Certainly in these cases resurrection to life was a signal token of the Divine favour, but it left them as it found them, members of the human family, still subject to the law of death.

What was it in our Lord's case which invested His Resurrection with this declaratory force which the Apostle ascribes to it? Now, the answer is first of all that the Resurrection of our Lord was a verification of the proof which He had voluntarily offered of His own claim. The Jewish doctors had understood the words of the Psalm addressed to the Messiah, "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee," not only of His birth beforetime, as it is understood in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but also of His rising from the dead. And in this sense it is employed by St. Paul in that wonderful appeal to the Jewish conscience which he made in the Synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, the Scripture bearing its own witness to the depth below depth of meaning which lies in its very simplest word. And therefore our Lord, knowing what was involved in the claim to be Messiah, foretold His Resurrection certainly on six, probably on more, occasions, and it was in this fulfilment of His own prediction, a prediction based on the deeper sense of the ancient Scriptures, that St. Paul recognised a declaration of the Divine Sonship of Christ.

The Resurrection was an intervention of the Almighty Father on behalf of His well-beloved Son, it was an assertion by the Son of His real relation with the Father, it was a proof that the certainties of the future and the laws of the physical world were alike subject to His supreme control. It was an event in the manner of its accomplishment so altogether exceptional and striking that the Apostle's appeal to it as declaratory of our Lord's Divinity is--if the expression might be allowed--only natural. Our Lord Himself had summoned the widow's son to rise from the bier, he had summoned [17/18] Lazarus to issue from the recesses of the tomb, but no form of majesty or power stood by His grave, no voice of authority was heard to speak. When before the dawn His human soul, returning from the regions of the dead, reunited itself with the holy body that lay in the sepulchre, and passed forth into the world of living men, it was a declaration that He Who had died and was buried was the Son of God.

But further, in our Lord's case, the Resurrection did not stand alone. It is abstractly conceivable that the foolish or the bad might be raised from the dead by superhuman power; one day we Christians know they will be in order "to give account of the things done in the body." In our Lord's case Resurrection from the dead was combined with absolute holiness and wisdom, with words "such as never man spake," with a life which none who had witnessed it could convict of sin,--in short, with a manifestation of truth and goodness which had never before been offered to the human conscience. The Resurrection was the fitting complement to the life and teaching of our Lord. It confirmed the anticipations which that life and teaching naturally raised; it was the countersign in the sphere of physical being of a judgment which had already been formed in the sphere of instructed conscience. Had our Lord lived and died, and then rotted in His grave, then His life would have died away in time from the memories of men; had He risen--it is an impossible supposition--without having lived His life, His Resurrection would have been merely a blank wonder, appealing only to the imagination and saying nothing to the sense of right and truth. As it is, it proclaims to all the world what disciples like Peter at Caesarea Philippi had owned before at their Master's feet, it proclaimed that He Who was crucified, dead and buried, is the Son of God, declared to be such by His Resurrection from the dead.

But the Apostle says that the declaration of the Divine Sbnship of Christ which was made by the Resurrection was made "with power." The Resurrection did not hesitatingly suggest that our Lord might possibly be the Son of God; it amounted, when taken together with His life and character and teaching, to a demonstration irresistible and overwhelming--at least for the Apostle himself--that He was the Son of God. I say, "for the Apostle himself," because, looking at the connection of the passage, it is scarcely open to doubt [18/19] that the expression "with power" points first of all to a personal experience.

Saul of Tarsus, at that time an active young rabbi in Jerusalem, strongly attached to the cause of the Pharisee party, was not one of the privileged company to whom our risen Redeemer showed Himself during the great forty days. As an unconverted Jew he would have looked at the person and work of Jesus through an atmosphere discoloured by false reports and by implacable controversial passion. For Saul, the rabbi, Jesus was only a teacher who had learned the trick of winning access to the popular ear, and had established for himself in the minds of the uneducated many the character and the authority of a prophet, a teacher moreover whose influence was steadily directed against that of the representatives of the established order of things in Jerusalem, and who had only met with his deserts when he was put to a cruel death by the Roman authorities. The tragedy of Calvary, he would have said at the time, would be a nine days' wonder, and then other persons and subjects of interest would come to the front and all would be forgotten.

Nor would this judgment be disturbed by the rumours which may have reached Saul's ears that there had been one or more apparitions of Jesus after His death. Saul's robust scepticism would have whispered to itself that rumours of this sort were only to be expected among the credulous and disappointed followers whom Jesus had misled, and that they were not deserving of serious consideration. And so he would have gone on his way in his bitter sincerity, even going so far as to place himself at the disposal of the persecuting party--not his own--which filled the highest places in the Jewish priesthood, and to take a foremost part in the cruelties by which it was hoped to stamp out the very name of the infant Church. And then came the journey to Damascus, and that scene among the low hills of the desert some eight miles from the city gate, which was to change the foremost persecutor of Christ into the most devoted of His Apostles. And what was it that that scene brought home with irresistible power to the mind of Saul of Tarsus? Many truths, no doubt, but this pre-eminently, that Jesus, of Whom he had dreamed as stricken and silenced for ever in the stillness and corruption of the tomb, was alive, and ruling men and events from the clouds of heaven. And how and [19/20] since what date this had come to be, Saul would have learned from Ananias of Damascus, and still more when he went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and had cross-questioned first this Apostle and then that, James and Thomas, and the penitent and radiant Magdalene, and the two disciples who walked to Emmaus, and as many as he would while passing through Galilee of those five hundred who had seen the Lord on one single occasion.

Of the great fact there was evidence enough and to spare, if only there was a mind open to receive it, and when the fact that Jesus Who was crucified had thus risen from the dead was established in the mind of Paul as a certainty beyond all discussion, how inevitably would it have changed the whole way of looking at all else about Jesus. It was then Jesus, and not himself or his instructors, Who held the true key to those ancient Scriptures; it was the teaching of Jesus, and not that of the Rabbinical schools, which followed on in a direct line from Moses and the prophets. Those miracles of Jesus at which, with other Pharisees, he had so often scoffed were only what might be expected in the air of Messianic prophecies, and this crowning wonder of all, which Jesus had predicted as designed to follow on His death, lifted yet further and more completely the veil that hung before the eyes of the astonished and humbled rabbi, and showed that He Who could thus make the past and present-alike minister to His glory, He Who could rule at once all the generations of man, and mould at pleasure the forces of nature, He Who could lie as a corpse in the darkness of the grave, and then, speaking from the heavens, could bend into utter submission the mind and the will of His stoutest adversary, must be indeed of more than human stature, must be indeed Divine.

To St. Paul the Resurrection was a revelation of the Divinity of the Son of God, made "with power." If to St. Paul, much more, we may well think, to those who saw the risen Redeemer once and again,--saw Him, conversed with Him, ate with Him, touched Him. Such certainly was the effect on that Apostle who was, it might seem, naturally of a sceptical turn of mind, although, as our Collect says, "for the more confirmation of the faith," he was doubtful of Christ's Resurrection. What was Thomas's exclamation when our Lord offered His hands and His side to the [20/21] inquisitive touch of the Apostle? "My Lord and my God!" Those sacred wounds in the risen body were a revelation, not of Christ's manhood only, but of His power; they proclaimed the power that had conquered death.

And so it has been ever since. The Resurrection has been felt to be the fact which beyond all others proclaims Christ as the Son of God. When Judas had gone his way, the important requisite in his successor was that he was to be a witness to the Resurrection. The Resurrection was the burden of all the recorded preaching of the earliest Church. The Gospel it preached was a Gospel of Resurrection--whether in the mouth of Stephen or of St. Paul, it was all the same. And at this moment all who think seriously on the matter know that the Resurrection is the point at which the creed which rises to the height of heaven is most securely embedded in the soil of earth, most thoroughly capable of asserting a place for its Divine and living Subject in the history of our race. Disprove the Resurrection and Chris-'' tianity fades away into thin air as a graceful but discredited illusion, but while it lasts as a certain fact it does its work as at the first in every honest conscience and intellect. More than any other event it proclaims Christ to be the Son of God, with power, in millions of souls. It is said, I know, that a wonder of this kind, however calculated to impress the mind of bygone generations, is not likely to weigh with our own, and on the ground that we men of to-day are less struck by suspensions of natural law than by the unvarying order of nature.

Every age, no doubt, has its fashions in the world of thought and literature, no less than in the world of manners and of dress, and if we survey a sufficient range of time we shall see that these fashions of thought, or many of them, are not less liable to have their day, and to be discarded, than the other fashions. Nor need a man be' a prophet in order to predict that the fashion which professes to attach less importance to a proved fact which involves a suspension of natural law, whether by the intervention of a higher law or otherwise, than to the general course and regularity of nature, is a fashion that will not last. Of course, when a man says that no such suspension of natural law, no miracle, is possible, the question is different, and in a sense it is a more important one; but I am for the moment thinking of people [21/22] who say that they deny neither the possibility nor the occurrence of miracle, and yet point with some sort of satisfaction to the fashionable temper of the time which does not think highly of the importance of miracle. And such a fashion, I say, will pass, if only because it is out of harmony with the average common-sense of human nature.

When does a fellow-man attract our attention? Is it when he is acting as he is wont, or when he is acting in some way which we did not anticipate, excelling himself, as we say, or falling below himself--a good man, as we thought, letting his mouth speak wickedness, or being partaker with the adulterers, or a bad man, as we held him, rising to a sort of generosity and self-sacrifice; the wise man committing himself, for the moment, to some startling folly, or the foolish man uttering some opinion the value of which commands the respect of the wise? And when the Ruler of the Universe suspends, for the moment, His wonted rules of working by such a miracle as raising the dead, the importance of His act will not be disposed of by a passing mood of thought which, fresh from laboratories and observatories, thinks more of law than of suspensions of law. No; our Lord's Resurrection is an occurrence which will declare to our children, as it has declared to our forefathers, the Divine Sonship of Jesus; and it will do this, as it has done it hitherto, "with power."

We know what death is. We have known, most of us, at some moment of our lives, what we would have given to be able to break its chain; and in the misery of this experience we may own the true Lordship of Him Who liveth, and was dead, and behold He is alive again for evermore, and hath the keys of hell and of death.

And, lastly, there is another sense in which the Resurrection from the dead is a declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. No one can read the Epistles of St. Paul without observing that he constantly speaks of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, not only as events in the life of Jesus on earth, but as spiritual transactions which took place within the Christian soul or character. He bids Christians crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts. He says of himself, "I am crucified with Christ." Addressing his readers at Ephesus, he quotes a Christian Jew of the earliest age. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give [22/23] thee light." He exclaims in this day's Epistle to his Colossian friends, "If we then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above." It is true that this language of St Paul is more particularly connected with the entrance of new converts into the Church of Christ by baptism. Conversion had involved a crucifixion of the old corrupt nature, and then as the new convert was dipped beneath the baptismal waters and raised again by the minister of the sacrament, he was, in St. Paul's words, "buried with Christ in baptism, and raised again to newness of life."

But, although that is the first and the more usual application of the passages, his language also applies to the circumstances of the later life of baptized Christians who have fallen from God, from grace, and have to return to God by a fresh conversion. If the body of Christ could only rise once from the grave, the Christian soul may certainly need to rise a second time; may, after a fall from grace, need such a resurrection, unless all is to be lost. And when such an event in the moral or spiritual world takes place, think you that they who look on do not learn something that they had not known before about the Son of God? Is it nothing that a Saul of Tarsus should lie in the grave of sin, and then, touched by a mighty inspiring force, bidding him rise and live, should pass forth to a new life of freedom and purity?

So it has been, sometimes in youth, sometimes in middle life, sometimes in declining years, almost within sight of death, with men of the most opposite characters, in the most various positions, whose experiences of sin and of its miser}' have been as unlike as possible. So it was in one age with Augustine, at once a man of cultivation and a libertine, whom one verse of an Epistle of St. Paul's made a saint and teacher of the Church; so it was with the profligate Earl of Rochester in the days of the Restoration; so, in our own, to take instances only from another land, with the popular French atheist who a few years ago devoted his whole time to propagating blasphemies against the character of the Redeemer; so with Littré, the polished man of letters, from whose mental atmosphere, almost until the last hour had come, God was utterly shut out by a false philosophy. For each of these, the profligate philosopher, the debauched courtier, the atheistic lecturer, the refined but Godless man of letters, God had His purpose and His-hour of mercy.

[24] You may some of you have known men the bearers of less famous names than these, or living in private life, who have been' subjects too of a spiritual resurrection. We may see dead souls joined to bodies of activity and vigour, to minds of intelligence and force, but not on that account the less dead. Such a soul lies in the grave of sin, it is blind, deaf, dumb, motionless, cold, putrid. It sees not the works of God in providence and life, His mercies, His judgments. It hears not the warnings of God in His Word, in His Church, in Hs inward appeals to conscience. It speaks not to God in prayer; it has not the clear-sightedness nor the heart to pray. It clothes not one single power or faculty in the robe of obedience. It is cold, so cold as to strike into any that touch it a deadly chill, aye, and, like Lazarus, it has already passed into the stage of moral putrefaction, so long has it lain in the grave.

And when such a soul hears the voice of the Son of God, when its eyes are opened to behold His justice and His love, when it opens its ears to listen to His warnings and His promises, when it opens its mouth to pray and to praise Him as the Author, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier of its life, when such a soul exchanges its corruption for purity, its coldness for the glow of a warm faith, bursts the bandages of habit which are wrapped around it in its grave, and passes forth, from the barriers that would fain detain it, into light and freedom--when men around behold this, and note further how in such a soul, risen and beautified, love has taken the place of hatred, and joy of sullen discontent, and peace of the restlessness of a bad conscience, and long-suffering of impatience with others and with God that knew no bounds, and gentleness and meekness of self-assertion, and faith of a distrust alike of man and God, and temperance of a perfect chaos of insurgent passions--when they see the man who dwelt yesterday among the graves sitting to-day amid the pure, clothed and in his right mind, and ask who has done it, who has thus changed that which offers to His will as much more stubborn resistance than the dust of a buried corpse, or the stone which closes the mouth of the sepulchre, it is clear what must be the answer. Who but He Who at the grave at Bethany announced Himself as "the Resurrection and the Life," bade Lazarus come forth from his tomb, and Whose own Resurrection is not merely an outward fact to mould our [24/25] thoughts, but an inward power to transform our very wills and characters.

When the old Christians, whom Saul of Tarsus had so cruelly wronged, beheld his converted life, his clear intelligence, his warm affections, his free and strong will, all placed at the service of the Saviour, Whom he but now had persecuted, what did they do? He himself shall answer: "They glorified God in me." And when in the Church of our day a soul rises from the death of sin to the life of righteousness there goes forth--oh! be sure of it--into hundreds and thousands of consciences around a proclamation of the Divine power of the Son of God.

God grant that this Easter the heart of the risen and glorified Jesus may be gladdened by many such a moral resurrection, and that we who witness., or who through His grace experience it, may know more and more surely to our endless peace Who He is and what He can do.

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