Sermon XIX. The Duty of Christians as Risen with Christ. [An Easter Sermon.] Colossians iii. 1. If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
THE privileges to which we are admitted, and the prospects which are opened before us, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Saviour, are what St. Paul here has in view, when he speaks of believers as being risen with him. Christ, being raised from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept, has given to all those who obey him, such a proof and a pledge of their immortality, that this great and undoubted result which is hereafter to take place, is regarded as if it were already accomplished and actually realized; and by a very natural figure, it is therefore said of Christians, that they are even now risen with Christ. It is one of the privileges of that covenant which God condescends to make [273/274] with us who are received into his holy Church, that it admits us to all the benefits of Christ's passion on our behalf. Accordingly we are taught that in baptism we are made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. It would be absurd, however, to suppose that these great advantages are conferred on any without implying correspondent obligations on their part; and therefore to renounce the devil and all his works, to believe in God, and to serve him, are engagements which are solemnly made, and which must be diligently and faithfully performed by all who would enjoy the full benefit of the Gospel promises.
To incline them to keep these engagements, every motive of duty and of gratitude is urged by the sacred writers; every consideration of terror and of love, of hope and of fear, is resorted to; and not less do they appeal to that sense of propriety, and love of consistency, which are found in every bosom. To this purpose are all those exhortations which require of Christians that they should live in all things as becometh saints; that they be followers of God as dear children; that they "let their light so shine before men, that they may see their good works, and glorify their Father who is in heaven."
This is the character after which all Christians are bound to aspire, if they would fulfil the object of Christ, in suffering in our behalf; for "he [274/275] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Further, to effect this object, and to form this character, all the persons of the sacred Trinity are represented as being interested and conspiring. Christ hath left us an example that we should walk in his steps; the Holy Spirit puts into our minds good desires, and proffers its -continual help to enable us to bring the same to good effect; and God the Father hath predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son. This is the high and holy calling of the Christian, and it is evident that to profess a religion which proposes the acquirement of such a character as shall fit us for the enjoyment and communion of the presence of God, and yet to make no effort to attain it, is not only to ensure the disappointment of our hopes, but also to expose ourselves to the imputation of great and manifest inconsistency.
But there is another ground on which Christians are exhorted to lead righteous and holy lives which is not merely that the consistency of their profession makes it necessary, but that the glorious rewards of which they have the promise, demand it of them as a correspondent return of gratitude.
They are travellers to a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. They [275/276] look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness; and they are assured that God has prepared for them, "things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive." Unworthy as they are of these glorious promises, they are admonished that the least return which they can make is, that they should walk worthy of their high vocation, in a life and conversation becoming those who are children of the light, heirs of a celestial inheritance, whose citizenship is in heaven.
In the text, both of these grounds of appeal to the Christian are united and combined. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." "We are buried with him by baptism into death," says St. Paul, "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." Our old nature is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin, and therefore to the question, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin?" He fitly answers, "God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" This, my brethren, is the first of those appeals to which I have referred, addressed to your character, and the consistency of your Christian profession. But [276/277] that which I shall chiefly insist on in this discourse, is the greatest of your hopes, and the certainty of their fulfilment. Ye are risen with Christ. As certainly as his body was raised from the grave, so certainly shall your bodies be raised, and changed, and glorified; as certainly as he has ascended into heaven, so certainly shall ye thither ascend. What obligations to holiness of heart, and universal obedience of life, does this hope of immortality impose; and how just and reasonable is the requirement, "if ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above!"
I shall not enter at large into those duties which are binding upon Christians, by virtue of this twofold appeal to their profession and their prospects. Including alike the mortification of all our evil and corrupt affections, and the active pursuit and practice of whatever things are virtuous, and beneficent, and pure, they are fully and frequently set forth in Scripture, and may be briefly summed up in this precept, "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," In this requirement of our religion, there is nothing that can be omitted or dispensed with; and since it is not by partial or occasional compliance with it, that we can expect to receive the crown of eternal life, we are [277/278] called upon, by persevering continuance in well doing, to seek for glory, and honour, and immortality. But though this be a just and reasonable requirement, and one which we see to be perpetually binding upon us; yet alas! such is the frailty of our nature, such the power of temptation, and such the influence of the world around us, that even the best are continually going astray from their duty; nor does a single day pass over any one of us, without giving ample reason for the confession, "we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; we have done those things which we ought not to have done." Effectually to recall us to our duty, therefore, it is important to be continually reminded of the motives to its performance, and it is with a view deeply to impress these motives upon the heart that the Church, in her annual course of religious observances, perpetually offers to our consideration some of the great facts connected with our redemption, and with our hopes of a future and a better life.
The season has just closed when she called upon us to contemplate the sufferings and death of the Saviour, to read, in his humiliation and passion, the demerit of our transgressions, and the punishment due to our sins; "from his bitter sorrows to derive into our souls a godly sorrow working repentance to salvation; from his broken body, a broken heart; from the warm [278/279] blood flowing from his wounded side, zeal and fervency" in his service. And now that she presents before us the animating fact of his resurrection, the promise and the pledge of our own, she would not set us free from the restraints of a holy, a self-denying, and a religious life, but she would have the scenes to which our thoughts have been directed still exert their salutary influence, chastening our joy, and withholding us from every thing in which there is danger or excess. Fixing our view, therefore, still upon him who is not only a sacrifice for sin, but also an ensample of godly life, she addresses to all her members, rejoicing as they now do in the resurrection of their Lord, the language and reasoning of St. Paul in the text, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those "things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God." Thus would she counteract a feeling and a disposition, which, it is to be feared, is too common among those who profess and call themselves Christians, to make the termination of that season in which they commemorate the sufferings of Christ, a period in which to give themselves up to the unrestrained pursuit of the world, to mingle anew in its vanities, to be distracted by its pleasures, to be engrossed with its cares. I speak not now of those who make a compromise between their duty and their desires, by abstaining strictly, during the season of Lent, from their sinful amusements and [279/280] customary dissipation, submitting to extraordinary acts of self-denial, and employing themselves in extraordinary acts of devotion, and of attendance upon religious services, merely with a view to expiate the excesses of the past, or to justify indulgence for the future; and who regard this day, and the event which we thus celebrate, with emotions of joy, only as it is to liberate them from a painful restraint which they have imposed upon their desires, while the very strictness and severity they have observed is made the plea by which conscience is soothed for those unhallowed courses of sin, or that habitual neglect of religion, of which it cannot approve. I speak of those who are Christians more than in name, but who, making a merit of severity and abstraction, and not considering that the object of humbling our hearts before God, is to increase the practical holiness of our lives, are content with having used the means without having attained the end; and satisfied with the outward observances to which for a time they have subjected themselves, become on this account indifferent and remiss in their devotions, feel at liberty to neglect that watchfulness which should be always exerted, and that prayer which should be without ceasing, and are in imminent danger, therefore, of falling into temptation.
But, my brethren, whether we humble ourselves for our guilt and demerit, or whether we rejoice in the strength of our salvation; whether we [280/281] lament over the sins which made necessary the sacrifice of Christ, or exult in his triumph over death and his victory over the grave, we should still remember that we are Christians, and that, as such, we should, at all times, exemplify the influence of those great principles by which we profess to be actuated.
When, therefore, passing from the expressions of penitence and sorrow to those of gladness and joy, we would free our minds from the gloom by which they have for a time been oppressed, we are not to find our consolation in a world which we have renounced, not to set our affections on the fleeting things of the earth, but truly risen with Christ, to raise our thoughts to higher objects, to seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. This is the lesson which I would wish, on this day, to inculcate, and it is one which the Church, in the Epistle of this morning, especially sets before us, and which, in all her Collects for the Sundays after Easter, she keeps constantly in view. She therefore teaches us to pray to him who has given his only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification, that we may always serve him in pureness of living and truth; that thankfully receiving that his inestimable benefit, we may daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; that being admitted into the fellowship of Christ's [281/282] religion, we may avoid those things that are contrary to our profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; that loving the things which he commands, and desiring that which he doth promise, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; and to quote no more, that like as we do believe our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell. Such is the mode in which she would have us to show our gratitude and joy for the glorious event which we this day celebrate; and the better to improve that event to our spiritual good, I shall now, in conclusion, suggest a few particulars, in which we should make it our care to have our lives conformed to the likeness of Christ's resurrection, and which may serve also as a test whereby to ascertain whether we be indeed risen with him.
"The first condition of our spiritual resurrection," I use the suggestions of a writer of another Church, "is that it be sincere and true, as Christ rose not in a shadowy apparition, but really and indeed. The Lord is risen indeed. He is risen. He is not here, said the angel. The sincere convert is no more what he was. He has entirely left and bid farewell to his passions, vices, vanities, and the eager pursuit of honours and pleasures." He has put these [282/283] off, and buried them in the grave of his self-love, with all covetous desires and the sinful lusts of the flesh. He has renounced the occasions and opportunities of sin, quitted all dangerous company, sensual pleasures, vain amusements, and idle or corrupt occupations, and whatever tends to detain a soul in the paths of an earthly course. His life is an entire sequestration from all this, from the spirit and manners of the world, and is the very contrast of its maxims of pleasure and luxury, of vanity, selfishness, and pride. Hence the apostle speaks of nothing so earnestly as this death, as the foundation and essence of a true reformation, "and a necessary preliminary to our rising with Christ;" and the first evidence of putting off the old nature and putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
The second condition of our spiritual resurrection is, that it be constant and permanent. "Christ being risen from the dead dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him."
The true penitent is a new creature. With him old things are passed away, and behold all things are become new. Subject to infirmities and temptations, he may be overtaken by sin, but he cannot live in it; he cannot love it, nor find delight in pursuing it. The better principle of a new life will stir up all his powers to resist the influence of evil, nor will he suffer it to have dominion over [283/284] him. He is under grace, governed by a principle of love, which will not permit him to continue in disobedience to God; but chastening all his desires, and strengthening all his good purposes, will induce him to present his body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is a reasonable service.
A third condition of our spiritual resurrection is that we put on the affections which belong to a renewed life. If we have been planted with Christ in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; for in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Having cast away the works of darkness, we must put upon us the armour of light. Having put off anger and wrath, malice and blasphemy, and all those things for which the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience, we are to put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, merciful and compassionate affections, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another; and above all, we are to put on charity, or universal good-will, which is the bond of perfectness. My brethren, if these marks of being dead to the world, and risen with Christ, be found in us; if these things be in us and abound, we shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Being thus conformed, to his image, we [284/285] shall not be ashamed to meet him at his coming. Being dead to the world, we shall enjoy in our souls the hope and the promise of that better life which is hid with Christ in God; and even in the view of death, assured of a joyful resurrection through his merits, we may look forward with high and holy anticipation to that predicted time, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear; for then shall we also appear with him in glory.