"I KNOW that ye seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; He is risen, as He said." So spake the sweet angel voices to those devoted women whose love made them the last beside the cross of Jesus, and the earliest at His tomb. So spake the sweet angel voices, and their words roll to us with the Divine echoes of joy and hope over the long interspace of 1800 years. Hardly less sweet are these memories of Christ's Resurrection to us who have reached the age of manhood or declining years, than are the merry bells and blithe carols that tell of the Nativity to the mirthful and the young. To them in the bright morning of life belong especially the rejoicings which fitly commemorate that holy infancy of Jesus, so full of favour with God and man: to us, who have all drunk some drops of His bitter cup, and felt some sparks of His fiery baptism, belong rather the triumphs and the hopes which, as our years draw onward and pass into the ever-deepening shade, remind us, with stronger significance, that our Lord and Master died as we must soon die, and that He put His foot upon the skull of death, that He might still the groan of a travailing creation, and take from us all dread of the conquered foe.
We are told that most savage nations live in a constant horror of death; their life is one long flight from it; it poisons their happiness; it bursts like a ghastly phantom upon their moments of peace. It is not death the agony that they shudder at, though there may be something terrible in that, but death the mystery, and "next to God the most infinite of mysteries;" death that slips the last cable of the soul, and sets it afloat on the shoreless sea of an eternal world ; there it is that lies for them "the mute, ineffable, voiceless horror before which all human courage is abashed." Can you wonder at this continuous dread ? They know of no world beyond the grave, and what would life be without the trust in that ? How purposeless and mean, how weary and hopeless; a journey leading nowhither; a gate opening upon nothing; a ship sent forth only that she may founder upon the bare unknown deeps. Look steadily at life, and consider what it is: how changeful, how short, how sorrowful. A light and thoughtless youth, of which the beauty and brightness pass rapidly away; and after that, chance, and change, and bereavement; cravings that meet with no fulfilment; the dying away of hopes, the disappointment of ambition,—a disappointment, perhaps, more bitter when it is gratified than when it fails; the struggle for a livelihood, the cares of a family, the deceitfulness of friendship, the decay and weakness of health and the faculties, as inevitable old age comes on; and all the while heard at every silent interval with a plainness that creeps along the nerves, as though our ears caught the pacing of some ghostly tread in the far-off corridors of some lonely haunted house—all the while the monotonous echoing of death's mysterious footfall, heard louder and louder, as day by day he approaches nearer and yet more near. And all this for so short a time that our petty schemes are broken off perpetually like a weaver's thread. " And is this all ? Is this then the period of our being? Must we end here? Did we come into the world only to make our way through the press, amid many jostlings and hard struggles, with at best only a few brief deceitful pleasures interspersed, and so go out of it again ? " Alas for man if this were all, and nought beyond, oh earth !
And then again, if there be no resurrection of the dead, how infinitely pathetic, how quite unspeakably heart-rending, would be the phenomena of death itself. " If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain ; and your faith is also vain; and we are found false witnesses of God ; and ye are yet in your sins; and "—all this is terrible enough, but mark the pathos of the climax, a pathos too deep for tears—" and then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." Perished ! what a world of desolate anguish, what sighs of unutterable despair, lie hid in that strange word.
Many of you will have read the famous vision of him who saw a bridge of threescore and ten arches, which spanned the rolling waters of a prodigious tide, and how the Genius said to him, "The bridge thou seest is Human Life; consider it attentively." And as I looked more attentively I saw several of the passengers dropping through the bridge into the great tide that flowed underneath it; and upon examination perceived that there were innumerable trap-doors, concealed in the bridge, which the passengers no sooner trod upon, but they fell through them into the tide and immediately disappeared. My heart was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping unexpectedly in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at everything that stood by them to save themselves. Multitudes were very busy in the pursuit of bubbles that glittered in their eyes and danced before them ; but often when they thought themselves within reach of them, their footing failed, and down they sunk. "Alas!" said J, "man was made in vain! how is he given away to misery and mortality! tortured in life, and swallowed up in death !"
And consider how frightful it would then be to live, as we are living, in a world, in a universe of death. Frightful, if there be no resurrection; but, thank God, we believe in the resurrection of the dead.
Yes, Christ is risen. O how do those words change the whole aspect of human life! The sunlight that gleams forth after the world has been drenched, and dashed, and terrified with the black thunder-drops, reawakening the song of birds, and re-illuminating the bloom of the folded flowers, does not more gloriously transfigure the landscape than those words transfigure the life of man. Nothing short of this could be our pledge and proof that we also shall arise. We are not left to dim intimations of it from the reminiscences of childhood; vague hopes of it in exalted moments; splendid guesses of it in ancient pages; faint analogies of it from the dawn of day, and the renovation of spring, and the quickened grain, and the butterfly shaking itself free of the enclosing chrysalis to wave its wings in the glories of summer light: all this might create a longing, the sense of some far-off possibility in a few chosen souls, but not for all the weary and suffering sons of humanity a permanent and ennobling conviction, a sure and certain hope. But Christ is risen, and we have it now; a thought to comfort us in the gloom of adversity, a belief to raise us into the high privilege of sons of God. What a hope, I say again, what a change in the thought of life ! Bravely and happily let us walk through this Dark Valley; for though the rocks overshadow, and the Phantom haunts it, at the end of it is a door of hope — a door of Immortality, that opens on the gardens of heaven, and the trees and streams of life. A dim, weary, troubled life here, perhaps, if God sees fit, ended by a spasm, a struggle, an agony,—and then to have the whole soul flooded by the sense of a newer and grander being, and our tears wiped away by God's own hand. This is the Christian's hope, and truly herein Christ maketh us more than conquerors ; more than conquerors, for we not only triumph over the enemy, but profit by him, wringing out of his curse a blessing; out of his prison a coronation and a home. " It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body".
The Fall of Man, p. 63.