And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
I. In spite of the many warnings our Lord had given, that on the third day He would rise again, the last thing these women expected to find was an empty grave; and when they reported to the Apostles that they had so found it "their words seemed to them as idle tales." As little, at that time, would they have comprehended that the stone was not removed to let Him out who was the Almighty, Everliving God, as that it was removed in order to let them in, in order that their love might be rewarded by their being made the first witnesses of the Resurrection. "Who will roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? "It was the question of weak faith and strong love—of a faith which was not in advance of that which prevailed around them, but of a love which would have removed mountains rather than not accomplish the work to which it had devoted itself.
II. To us there is no dimness. We stand in the fulness of light, and are called to walk as children of light. When our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the grave He deprived death for ever of that dreadful sting with which he can now wound none save those who wilfully remain in their sins, unrepentant and so unforgiven. He rolled away the door of our sepulchre when He rose triumphant from His own. All power is given Him in heaven and in earth. He will not fail us if we seek Him truly. "And this," saith He, "is the will of Him that sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day."
F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i., p. 168.
I. Who rolled away that stone. Who had right and authority to roll it away? I am not speaking now of mere physical power. Man was utterly incompetent, morally speaking, to roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and had he done it, it would have been useless. Had angels any authority or right to do it? They did it instrumentally, but was man responsible to angels? Were angels to decide whether the work was done, whether Jesus had met every jot and tittle of the law's requirements, penalties, and precepts? Christ was not responsible to angels. He had nothing to do with them. He passed by the race of angels. Therefore angels were not competent. Was Christ competent Himself to roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? He said He had power to lay down His life, and power to raise Himself up again; but had He official power? No: He had not. He was not responsible to Himself; He did not come on His own account—He came on His Father's account: He was responsible to His Father. The Resurrection was of the Father, and the Ascension was of the Father; had the Father not been satisfied, the tomb had never been opened; and afterwards, had the Father not been satisfied by the righteousness of Christ, heaven's gate had not been opened. The angel of the Lord, by the authority of the Father, rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre.
II. What followed in reference to the risen Christ, and in reference to His own people. (1) He came forth from the grave with power, the power of endless life, and the power of conferring that endless life. (2) Christ rose that you and I might rise. The Resurrection of Christ is a pledge to those who are believers and risen in heart, that all else should follow. As it is impossible that Christ, having accomplished the work of redemption, should not rise and dwell with the Father, so it is equally impossible that you and I, if we are believers in the Saviour, bound up with Him by living faith, should not ascend and be glorified pillars of that Temple by-and-by, to go out no more for ever.
C. Molyneux, Penny Pulpit, new series, Nos. 296, 297.
Mark 16:3-4The facts of our religion—which, if supernatural is historical—are, when rightly appreciated, so many moral forces for the soul, incorporating ideas which give courage and gladness, and containing principles which are at the root of conduct and life. Pre-eminent among them is the event of the Resurrection, and I say faith in this event is the one and only force that adequately enables us to roll away the stones that encounter us in the struggles of life; and that what St. Paul calls the "power" of the Resurrection, is for all of us, not least for the young—who have their great opportunites, and untold possibilities in front and unexhausted—the mighty secret of a steady triumph over temptation, difficulty, and sorrow.
I. The Resurrection is a power to heal conscience. Christ died; and if He had only died, while we should have been grateful for an unparalleled sacrifice, we should have mourned over its uselessness. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and in that Resurrection by the mighty hand of God we see His sacrifice accepted, and death tasted for every man; and peace ensured, and life eternal given. Sin on the conscience is one great stone which the Resurrection rolls away. Sin in the will is another. His grace helps us to hate what is evil, and to resist coarse and degrading instincts, and to practise self-control, and to carry the burdens of the weak, and to regard gifts and faculties as opportunities both of kindness and virtue.
II. The Resurrection is also a power to ennoble duty. In the light of the Resurrection life is seen to be worth living, for the stone of a purposeless and brief existence is rolled away; and with its new aims and responsibilities, and functions and motives, this life on earth has a new meaning and force. Now we may make ties, for death cannot dissolve them; now we may scatter the seeds of goodness, since we shall not be sowing them on the waves of a remorseless sea; now, as we rear our children, and win our friends, and grasp our duties, and pursue our studies, the chilling taunt does not come to mock us: "You are all of you but as the shadows on the mountain-side." Now we feel it worth while to try for humbleness and purity, for great tasks and meek virtues; for steady effort and patient love. All shall not be in vain; all shall have its sure and happy recompense if Jesus is Lord and Christ.
III. Again, the Resurrection is a power to explain death. Death is the one great fact that casts its ghastly shadow over the world, chilling youth, saddening age, and, like a black wall on the horizon, overshadowing for manhood the grand activities in front. But is it the end of our journey, or only a stage in it? The Resurrection shows us that death is only an event in life, not the abrupt closing of it. In the world to which we go there will be leisure enough in the great spaces of eternity to mellow and develop in that light, which needeth not the sun or moon to lighten it, the germs of thought and action which we sowed here; if there is no waste in the domain of nature, there is none in the sphere of spirit, and the continuity of eternal life, apparently interrupted by our physical dissolution, shall be reunited and carried on under new conditions of perfection in the glory of the world to come.
IV. Once more, the Resurrection is a power to console sorrow. Have you observed that it was a "young man" whom the women beheld, sitting at the right hand in the tomb, and clothed in a white garment. Surely that gives the attractive and invigorating suggestion that the life to come will be a period of perpetual youth, with a grand enthusiasm which shall never be chilled by disappointment; youth, with time enough in front for perfecting its plans; youth, which no taint of corruption shall soil with the least stain of imperfection, and which in an ever-growing goodness shall have the image and fruition of God.
Bishop Thorold, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, May 6th, 1880.
References: Mark 16:3.—R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. i., p. 63; J. C. Hare, Sermons in Herstmonceux Church, p. 175; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 231; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 303. Mark 16:3, Mark 16:4.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 268; vol. iv., p. 120; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 41; Bishop Thorold, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 241.
Mark 16:5Perpetual Youth.
I. The life of the faithful dead is eternal progress towards infinite perfection. The life of man, being under the law of growth, is in all its parts subject to the consequent necessity of decline. But the perfect life of the dead in Christ has but one phase—youth. It is growth without a limit and without decline. To say that they are ever young is the same thing as to say that their being never reaches its climax, that it is ever but entering on its glory.
II. The life of the faithful dead recovers and retains the best characteristics of youth. The perfect man in the heavens will include the graces of childhood, the energies of youth, the steadfastness of manhood, the calmness of old age; as on some tropical tree, blooming on more fertile soil, and quickened by a nearer sun than ours, you may see at once bud, blossom, and fruit—the expectancy of spring, the maturing promise of summer, and the fulfilled fruition of autumn—hanging together on the unexhausted bough.
III. The faithful dead shall live in a body that cannot grow old. The glorious and undecaying body shall then be the equal and fit instrument of the perfected spirit, not as it is now, the adequate instrument only of the natural life.
A. Maclaren, Sermons preached in Manchester, 2nd series, p. 190.
Mark 16:6The Dead and their Future State.
The memory of the dead seems intended to serve as a kind of ladder for the living, whereon they may ascend from things seen to things unseen. As we grow older, and more imbued with the spirit of this world, it seems ordained that thoughts of death and the dead should grow proportionately stronger, so as to imbue us with the spirit of another world. As age brings us more and more within the danger of the infection of this world, death presses his keen antidote closer and closer to our lips.
I. Hopes concerning the dead are necessarily connected with opinions concerning the life after death; or, in other words, concerning the states commonly called heaven and hell. The great law of retribution upon which is based all the teaching of Christ is not to be violated, but to find its supreme fulfilment in the day of decision. Each man is to receive the things that he hath done in the flesh. What things we shall thus receive the senses cannot reveal to us. But if we confine ourselves to statements of probabilities, not about things but about the proportions of things, we seem to be within the province of sober reason.
II. Proceeding in this way we infer that it is improbable that the present diversity of human beings shall be hereafter merged in one monotonous identity. It seems more consistent with what we know of God's laws here, as well as with what we glean from the utterances of Christ Himself, to believe that the seeds sown below—instinct with choice natures from the first, and exposed to diverse influences of earth, and rain, and air, and sunshine—should not all blossom into the selfsame flowers, with every leaf and petal, every hue and streak, precisely similar. More likely that every present cause will be reproduced in some future effect. But, it may be urged, this continuity of cause and effect before and after death is a source of terror as well as of consolation. If we are to reap hereafter what we have sown here, how full of fear should be the harvest for many of us? Yes, this is a legitimate and wholesome fear; and the present tendency to put aside, as unworthy and unreasonable, the belief in a future judgment and punishment has been caused, in part perhaps, by a misconception of the means of judging and punishing. For judgment is not the mere utterance of an arbitrary verdict backed by brute force. To judge is to separate between truth and falsehood, between righteousness and unrighteousness; and the ideal judgment is that verdict which is pronounced by the judge with such a force of correction that the offender himself anticipates its utterance and confesses its justice. Such judgments and such punishments as these, what sane man can pronounce irrational, or afford to laugh at even as possibilities? What? Because we no longer confuse metaphor with literalism, because we cease to apprehend tangible flames in a material pit, does it follow that God's laws of cause and effect are to be suspended?—that spiritual seed is to produce no spiritual fruit?—that sin shall cease to bring forth sorrow, and ill-doing to breed remorse? We blaspheme God when we degrade His just mercy into a weak connivance at imperfection, as if for the sake of a little family circle He would put a veto on His Divine law of retribution, and nullify the fundamental principles of redemption, for the purpose of giving a few select favourites a pass into Paradise. Not in the seventh heaven of heavens, not in the bottom-most abyss of hell, can we hope to escape from law, or banish the presence of love. But do law and love preclude punishment? And does punishment cease to be awful because it is spiritual? How weak and sterile must be that man's imagination who can realise none but material punishment, and has never learned to dread a spiritual hell!
III. It may seem a paradox to speak of the fear of hell as being hopeful; but yet it is certain that, if you give up all fear of the future, you will inevitably end in giving up all hope also. It is not right nor reasonable that you should expect for yourselves, or for the great majority of your infinitely diversified and imperfect fellow-creatures, that, when you die, you will all immediately be transmuted into one identical perfect image. If you expect this, you expect what is not just, and you form a conception of an unjust and undiscriminating God. But if your conception of God is thus lowered your faith in Him is lowered also; and thus all your hopes of eternal communion with Him become pallid and faint. If we may be permitted without irreverence to use that phrase, we might say that, for those who really love God as a Father, there can be no hesitation in trusting both themselves and all the multitude of the human dead since the creation of the world to the uncovenanted mercies of God. And if, indeed, we have at any time realised, however faintly, but for one moment in our lives what it must be to be admitted into the circle of the eternal mercies, and into communion with the Everlasting Love, can it seem, even to the best and purest of us, other than the highest privilege—after long and various stages of waiting, and working, and suffering—at last, clinging like a child to the border of the garment of the Holy One of God, to be drawn in with Him into some inferior corner of the abode of the Presence, where one may sit down as it were upon sufferance, well pleased to catch a far-off glimpse of the splendour of the unapproachable throne?
E. Abbott, Church of England Pulpit, Nov. 1st, 1879.
There is a triumphant scorn, amounting almost to sarcasm, in the way in which that young man, sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment, addressed the three women that came early to the holy sepulchre at the rising of the sun. "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified; He is risen: He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him."
I. I suppose that, to an angel's mind, "He is risen" would not express more wonder than the assertion of any of the processes of Nature. It could not—and the angel knew it—it could not be otherwise, for Christ could not but rise. "It was not possible," St. Peter says, "that He should be holden of it." Now remember that is not spoken about the soul; of that it would be obvious; but of the body—it could not choose but rise. The whole doctrine of the Resurrection is a doctrine of the body. The future and eternal life of the soul was known almost universally before Christ. The heathen knew and talked of it. But with very few exceptions, indeed, neither Jew nor Gentile knew anything of the coming to life again of the body till Christ rose. He was the Firstfruit of that science.
II. It is in the nature and constitution and obligation of every human body that it must rise. When you bury a body you simply, and you literally, sow a seed. You were born to rise—as much made to rise as any seed which you ever put into the ground. Resurrection is not properly a miracle. It is a grand, loving provision of the Counsel of God. And when we say of Christ, or say of any man, "He is risen," we only assert the necessary consequence of human being.
III. In the sight of God every believer is so united with Jesus Christ, that his whole being—his body, soul, and spirit—is a member of the body of Christ. In Christ, his Head, He died and suffered punishment upon the Cross. In Christ, his Head, he is buried. In Christ, his Head, he rises again at the last day. Therefore, where Christ goes he goes; whither Christ ascends he ascends; where Christ is he is. So that, in that He is risen, the whole Church is risen. And if so be you are a real living member in the mystical body of Christ, your resurrection and eternal life is so sure, that actually, in the mind of God, it was done that day when the angel said of you—of you, as you were then in the mystical body of Christ, "He is risen." It is an absolute, historical past.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 94.
Mark 16:6-7The Address of the Angel to the Women at the Sepulchre.
These verses naturally divide themselves into two heads. The first head includes the information as given to the women; and the second, the commission with which they were charged. Note:—
I. The soothing character of the language which the angel employs; and the indirect yet forcible manner in which he recognises the devotedness which the women had displayed. "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified." They had no need to be terrified at the glories of an angel, who could not be alienated by the indignity heaped on their Lord. They, who had come seeking the crucified Nazarene in the grave, were not unworthy to hold converse with celestial beings themselves.
II. But the women needed more than the quieting of those fears which the apparition of the angel had naturally excited. They wanted information as to the disappearance of Christ's body, and this was quickly furnished; for the heavenly messenger went on to say, "He is risen; He is not here; behold the place where they laid Him." There is something remarkable in the reasoning—if such it may be called—which is employed by the angel. He calls on the women to behold the place where their Lord's body had lain, as though its mere desertion were evidence enough of the fact of resurrection. And so in real truth it was, to all at least who, like the women, knew and considered the character and circumstances of the disciples of Christ, The supposition would be absurd to them, and should be absurd to ourselves, that men situated as were the disciples, and who had displayed a timidity which could hardly be reconciled with affection for their Master, should have devised and executed a plan which would have been bold in the boldest, and which could scarcely have succeeded under the most favourable circumstances, and with the most copious appliances.
III. The commission with which these women were entrusted. The glad tidings of Christ's resurrection were not for themselves alone; the angel directed them to hasten at once and give intelligence of the glorious fact. As the first news of Death came by a woman, so by a woman came the first news of the Resurrection. Sinner and sinful must always merge in the preacher of the Gospel; seeing that through men and not through angels is the appointed instrumentality. When Mary Magdalene was sent with a message to the Apostles it may have been designed as evidence that previous guiltiness disqualifies no one for office of preacher. He may but discharge it with greater fidelity on the principle laid down by our Saviour Himself: "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2,187.
References: Mark 16:6.—S. Clark, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 268; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., pp. 228, 239; G. Brooks, Five. Hundred Outlines, p. 85; Church of England Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 211.
Mark 16:7Love's Triumph over Sin.
I. Notice the loving message with which Christ beckons the wanderer back. If we try to throw ourselves back into the Apostle's black thoughts, during the interval between his denial and the Resurrection morning, we shall better feel what this love-token from the grave must have been to him. His natural character, as well as his love for his Master, ensured that his lies could not long content him. They were uttered so vehemently because they were uttered in spite of inward resistance. Overpowered by fear, beaten down from all his vain-glorious self-confidence by a woman-servant's sharp tongue and mocking eye, he lied; and then came the rebound. The same impulsive vehemence which had hurried him into the fault, would swing him back again to quick penitence, when the cock crew, and that Divine face, turning slowly from before the judgment-seat with the sorrow of wounded love upon it, silently said, "Remember." We can fancy how that bitter weeping, which began so soon, grew more passionate and more bitter when the end came. We can understand how wearily the hours passed on that dreary Saturday. In his sorrow come the tidings that all was not over, that the irrevocable was not irrevocable, that perhaps new days of loyal love might still be granted, in which the doleful failure of the past might be forgotten. Think of this message (1) as a revelation of love that is stronger than death; (2) of a love that is not turned away by our sinful changes; (3) of a love which sends a special message because of special sin; (4) of a love which singles out a sinful man by name.
II. Notice the secret meeting between our Lord and the Apostle. What tender consideration there is in seeing Peter alone, before seeing him in the companionship of the others. And may we not regard this secret interview as representing for us what is needed on our part to make Christ's forgiving love our own? There must be the personal contact of my soul with the loving heart of Christ, the individual act of my own coming to Him, and as the old Puritans used to say, "my transacting with Him."
III. Notice the gradual cure of the pardoned Apostle. He was restored to his office, as we read in the supplement to John's Gospel. In that wonderful conversation, full as it is of allusions to Peter's fall, Christ asks but one question: "Lovest thou Me?" So the third stage in the triumph of Christ's love over man's sin is, when we, beholding that love following towards us, and accepting it by faith respond to it with our own, and are able to say: "Thou knowest that I love Thee."
A. Maclaren, Sermons preached in Manchester, 2nd series, p. 58.
References: Mark 16:7.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 187; Outline Sermons to Children, p. 151; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 315. Mark 16:8.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i., p. 341.
Mark 16:9Our Risen Lord's Love for Penitents.
I. Marvellous was the acceptance of penitence by the Cross; but, if possible, more marvellous yet at the Resurrection. At the Cross the outcast and penitent was equalled to the holy and the pure; at the Resurrection she was even preferred, Holy Scripture does not tell us how or when the Redeemer healed her sorrows, whose very soul the sword had pierced at His Crucifixion: it does say of the penitent, that to her Jesus appeared first. He who had passed by all the angel-hosts, and took not their nature, but ours, the last of His fallen creatures, passed by her through whom He took that nature to comfort her who had most degraded it. His mother, doubtless, He comforted by His Spirit; the penitent He comforts by His very Presence and His words. Oh, wondrous condescension of redeeming love! who rose early in the morning to seek her who, late though she had loved Him, then sought Him early; and as an earnest of His yearning tenderness for penitents first revealed His risen glories to a penitent, made her an apostle to Apostles, a comforter to His brethren.
II. The mercy of the Resurrection was even fuller than the mercy of the Cross which it completed. The mercy at the Cross was acceptance; the mercy at the Resurrection was not acceptance only, but enlarged grace, heavenly visitations, to be known by name to Jesus, called as His own, spoken to in the heart, to have one God with the Man Christ Jesus, one Father with the co-eternal Son. At the Cross Jesus promised that the penitent should be with Him; in the Resurrection Himself cometh, victorious over hell and death and Satan, to be with the penitent. Thou needest not, then, to sit down in weariness and hopelessness, whatever, of early years, thou hast lost, whatever grace thou hast forfeited, though thou hast been in a far country, far away in affections from Him who loved thee; and wasting on His creatures, nay, sacrificing on idol-altars with strange fire, the gifts which God gave thee that thou mightest be precious in His own sight. He who called Magdelene in her calleth thee. Be thy soul to thee as a empty tomb where Christ's lifeless body was once buried by thy sins, and now is not; be it that thou see nothing but darkness, feel nothing but the chillness and damp of the tomb, catch no ray of light, look again and discover no trace of Him, yet despair not. Mourn His absence, desire His Presence. The very desire is His Presence. He will appear unto thee by some comfort in prayer; by some secret stillness of the soul, or ray of light, though but for an instant; or by some thrill of joy on one steadfast purpose, henceforth to have no other object but to win Christ, to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
E. B. Pusey, Sermons for the Church's Seasons, p. 340.
References: Mark 16:9.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 230; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons in India, p. 125; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 625; vol. xiv., No. 792; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 198. Mark 16:9-11.—Homilist, new series, vol. iii., p. 619; H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 386. Mark 16:10.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 86. Mark 16:11-13.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 493. Mark 16:12.—T. T. Shore, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 221; F. W. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 408; J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. ii., p. 9; W. Meller, Village Homilies, p. 168. Mark 16:12, Mark 16:13.—R. C. Trench, Studies in the Gospels, p. 324. Mark 16:14.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 219; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 197; A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 502.
Mark 16:15Christ's Commission to His Apostles.
Introduction.— These words present four objects:—Work, Workmen, a Field for Work, and the Divine Master of the workmen.
I. Work. The work is preaching the Gospel. The power of speech is a wondrous faculty of man, lifting him above all speechless creatures, and placing him near to that God by whose word the heavens were made, and who created all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. Speech is reason's younger brother, and "a most kingly prerogative of man." It is a conduit through which a man's thoughts, and purposes, and feelings, flow out to his fellows. It is a window through which you may see into another's spirit. It is a key by which you may unlock the door of another's heart. It is a hammer by which you may break the purposes and the resolutions of others; and a fire by which you may ignite the passions of one man or of many; and by which you may consume the wood, hay, and stubble, of false notions and of erroneous opinions.
II. Look at the Workmen. Eleven are specially addressed. Judas is not here. Where is he? But who are these? They are all the children of Abraham concerning the flesh, and have been brought up under the various religious institutions of the Holy Land. This was, to some extent, education for their work, especially for their work among their own people. They had been taken from the least refined of the provinces of the Holy Land, and from the people whom the southerners despised for their illiterateness and coarseness; from the district, however, in which Jesus Christ had Himself been brought up. This gave them sympathy with the common people, if not influence over them. They were men of ordinary secular occupations; several were fishermen, one was a tax-gatherer. There was not a priest among them, not a scribe, not a ruler. The acceptableness of their work and their success would be entirely independent of riches, or of high rank, or of elevated position, in any respect.
III. Look at the Sphere of their Toil. The dispensations of Divine mercy had for centuries been chiefly, if not entirely, confined to one people and to one land. God's priests ministered exclusively to the people in this land. God's prophets spoke almost entirely to the people in this land. But now preachers of a glorious Gospel are to leave this people and this land, and are to go into all the world. They are to begin their work in Jerusalem, and are to heap coals of fire upon the heads of the enemies of their Master, but Jerusalem is not to detain them. They are to labour in Judæa, and Samaria, and Galilee; but they may not tarry for life there, they are to go to the uttermost parts of the earth. The world is the sphere of these workmen's work. The world without the limitations of country, or of climate; the world without the distinctions of barbarism, and civilisation, and bondage, and freedom; the world irrespective of the boundaries of the world's kingdoms; the world as they saw it, Egypt, and the Isles of the Sea, and Greece, and Rome; the world as Jesus saw it, with America in His eye, although yet undiscovered; as He saw it from north to south, and from east to west.
IV. The Master of the Workmen. He who saith, "Go," came into the world. He who saith, "Go ye," Himself came; came not by deputy or proxy, but Himself came. He is the manifestation of the love of God; the Christ who died for the ungodly; the Jesus who was born to save, and whom God hath exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour. He who saith, "Go unto the world to every creature," is the propitiation for the sins of the world.
S. Martin, Rain upon the Mown Grass.
The Church of the Future.
If the Gospel is to be universal; if, in other words, Christ's ideas of human nature and human duty, and Divine nature and activity, are to become universal; it is because they have in them an adaptation to every stage and development of humanity, as to manner and customs—from the lowest dawn of intelligence clear through to the time when we shall have scoured the heavens, and shall have understood the liturgy of every star, and when we shall know around and around the horizon everything that is within its bounds.
Consider what the realm of the Gospel is.
I. It is universal, universal in respect to time, universal in respect to place, and universal in respect to conditions. That which constitutes the marrow of the Gospel fits itself to human nature and human want everywhere and always. It declares (1) that all men are imperfect by ignorance, by infirmity, by weakness, and by voluntary wrong; (2) it assumes the universal adaptability of men to increment, to development, or increased knowledge; (3) it declares that God is a being setting Himself forth, in so far as a disclosure is made of His Nature, as the sun is set forth. The sun is to the world the centre of all life. God is the Sun; or, to take away the figurative construction of it, God is the Father.
II. The simplicity of the Gospel is only such in appearance. It has taken hold of the great root-facts of human existence, human nature, and human destiny. It emphasizes them. It does not organise a church. Christ never organised a Church, nor did He ever leave a plan on which the Apostles should organise a Church. Why should He have done so? The moment you bring men together with a common purpose it is a part of their very nature and competency to develop an organisation according to their want. Give to men a sense of their superiority; let them feel the swell of possible manhood; let them come under the consciousness of God's presence and love; let the same feeling be developed in them that God has toward them—and the social principle will make its own terms and gatherings. So as fast as men need this or that mode of worship they can supply it for themselves. There is no need of supplying it for them. The vast baggage which religion has brought down through the ages has been one of the great hindrances to the spread of the Gospel, and it will be one of the great hindrances to the spread of the Gospel to the end of time. Until you can take away sanctity from churches, from ordinances, from man-made creeds, and from every external observance, you have the Gospel in chains: it is not free; it is in bondage.
H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 25.
References: Mark 16:15.—C. Girdlestone, Twenty Sermons, 3rd series, pp. 303, 317; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 285; A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 536. Mark 16:15, Mark 16:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 573; vol. xv., No. 900; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 225. Mark 16:15-20.—H. M. Luckock, Footprints of the Son of Man, p. 391.
Mark 16:16We must all tremble when we hear those awful declarations in the Athanasian Creed, respecting the Catholic faith, such as, "Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." And some are offended, and wish these sentences were not there. But if it sounds severe and uncharitable for the Church to speak in this way, then, no doubt, the same must be said of the Church of God in old times; and we shall find just the same difficulty with the Bible itself. The Old Testament, wherein we have the figure or pattern of God's Church set before us, is full of things quite of the same kind; of things that sound at first to unthinking men in these days as severe and uncharitable. Yet, surely, those ways, which we read of in the Old Testament, are the ways of God, and He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever;" and all those things were "written for our learning." Why does God put into our mouths, in His house of prayer, such dreadful words respecting others, our fellow-creatures, perhaps no worse than ourselves?
I. These things might, indeed, appear to us quite irreconcilable with all that we know of God's lovingkindness, might seem to be great difficulties and stumbling-blocks if taken by themselves; but when they are set by the side of another vast and overwhelming doctrine, which is the very last of all that the heart of man is willing to believe, yet is the great foundation of all revealed truth, then we see that all things wonderfully agree together, and support each other. The doctrine I mean is this, that the wicked shall be cast into hell, and all the people that forget God; that a great part of mankind will have to depart into a place of everlasting fire, notwithstanding all the lovingkindness and infinite mercy of Almighty God to us.
II. Since, therefore, the Holy Scripture is so full throughout of what would sound to men of these days, if it were not there, as so severe, and awful, and uncharitable, it is quite consistent; with this, that the voice of the Church also should speak out in so very fearful and strong a manner, so as to offend weak and carnal men, respecting the Catholic Faith. The Church, like a kind mother, calls aloud to her child when she sees it sporting on the brink of a great precipice. The danger was all there before, but she declares it. Fire will burn, and water will drown, and he who falls over a precipice will be killed, although no one warned him, and, as it were, pulled him back rudely and forcibly from destruction: and so we find that the eternal danger is imminent respecting our not holding rightly the Catholic faith, although the Church of God did not, in mercy, ring it, as it were, aloud in our ears.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. x., p. 153.
References: Mark 16:16.—J. Keble, Sermons from Easter to Ascension Day, p. 425; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 281. Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18.—W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 281.
Mark 16:18The Safety and Helpfulness of Faith.
I. Consider the safety which Christ offers. Notice it is a safety, not by the avoidance of deadly things, but by the neutralizing of them through a higher and stronger power. There is no such idle promise as that if a man believes in Christ a wall shall be built around his soul, so that the things out of which souls make sin cannot come to him. The Master knew the world too well for that. His own experience on the hill of His temptation was still fresh in His memory. He knew that life meant exposure, that sin must surely beat at every one of these hearts—nay, that the things, out of which sin is made, temptation, moral trial, must enter into every heart; and so He said, not, "I will lead you through secluded ways, where none but sweet and healthy waters flow;" but, "Where I lead you, there will be the streams of poison. Only if you have the vitality, which comes by faith in Me, your life shall be stronger than the poison's death; if you drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt you." One thing we see immediately in such a promise, one condition which belongs to its fulfilment. It is that only in the higher action and mission lay the safety from the lower influence; and, therefore, that the lower influence was to be powerless over the disciples only as they met it incidentally in the direct pursuance of their higher task. Only those temptations which we encounter in the way of duty, in the path of consecration—only those—has our Lord promised us that we shall conquer. He sends us out to live and work for Him. The chances of sin, which we meet while that Divine design of life, the life and work for Him, is clear before us, shall not hurt us. When we forget that design, our arm withers, our immunity is gone.
II. He "shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Safety and helpfulness. He shall be safe, and he shall save others too. These two things go together, not merely in this special promise of the Saviour, but in all life. Safety and helpfulness. So is the whole world bound into a whole, so does the good that comes to any man tend to diffuse itself, and touch the lives of all, that these two things are true. First, that no man can be really safe, really secure that the world shall not harm and poison him, unless there is going out from him a living and life-giving influence to other men. And, second, that no man is really helping other men unless there is true life in his own soul. Both of these seem to me to be great and ever-present truths. "They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." If I read these words spiritually; if I make them a promise and a prophecy of that wonderful power which, in all times in all religious, spiritual life has had to extend itself, like fire, from any one point which it has already occupied, to everything within its reach which is inflammable, which is capable of the same burning life; it seems to me that the way in which the promise is fulfilled to us is by the clothing of the believing life with two qualities, which are expressed by these two words—Testimony and Transmission. (1) Life-giving lives bear testimony by the very fact of their own abundant life. They show the presence, they assert the possibility of vitality. And very often this is what souls, whose spiritual life is weak and low, need to have done for them. (2) Transmission: the highest statement of the culture of a human nature and of the best attainment that is set before it is, that as it grows better it grows more transparent, and more simple—more capable, therefore, of simply and truly transmitting the life and will of God which is behind it. On a life of obedience and faith God shines as the sun shines on a block of crystal, sending its radiance through the willing and transparent mass, and lighting it all into its utmost depths.
Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 333.
Mark 16:19I. I suppose that our first impressions are to consider the Ascension of our Lord as the very greatest event connected with His appearance on earth. To our own mind, undoubtedly, nothing could be so solemn, so exalting, as the changing this life for another; the putting off mortality and putting on immortality; and all this we connect with the thought of the removal from earth to heaven. And had Christ been as we are, His Ascension would have been spoken of very differently from what it is now; and the account of His Resurrection would have been justly deemed incomplete without it. But to Christ, if I may so speak, His Resurrection was natural, it was His death that was the miracle of His love. Surely, as we need not to be told that Lazarus died again after his resurrection, as we know that it follows, of course, because he was a man and no more; so we need not be told that Christ, after His Resurrection, ascended into heaven. We know that it follows, of course, for the dwelling of the Most High God is not in earth, but in heaven.
II. But we are told that He did ascend: and we are told it chiefly for the sake of two things that are told us with it. The one is contained in the text, "He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God;" the other is in the Acts of the Apostles: "Ye men of Galilee," said the angel to the Apostles, who were watching Him as He was taken up from them, "why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner, as ye have seen Him go into heaven." In these two things consists, as it seems to me, the great usefulness of the account of our Lord's Ascension. He is gone away, to come again in like manner as we saw Him go into heaven. And when shall that coming be? We can only answer in His own words: "Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." No speculation can be vainer than to inquire about the time of that coming, which is known to the Father only. But be the period long or short, our Lord has given us wherewithal to occupy ourselves till He does come: He has furnished us with a means whereby, for ever calling to mind His parting from us, we may look more anxiously for the hour of His return. He has given every man his work, and He has told us continually to break the bread and drink the cup of Christian communion, that we may show forth His death till He come.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 54.
Mark 16:19-20Christ's Work for Man and with Man.
In one sense the Ascension was the end of Christ's emptying Himself for us of His glory; the end of His suffering, of His slow waiting while the will of God wrought itself out. The end had come. The great exaltation had succeeded. He had ascended up into the heaven where He was before.
I. But in another and higher sense it was not the end, and it is of great moment that we thoroughly realise this for the strengthening of our hearts in this our time of trouble. His work was not yet finished; rather, we may say, it had reached a grander stage of development than ever before. That sitting of His at the right hand of the Father was not a negative repose. Still the mystery of those words which He gave them—"My Father worketh hitherto"—still these were being fulfilled, although He had ascended up into heaven again, still He was doing, still He is doing, a work for man and with man.
II. A work for man. He sketches it out in many sayings to His disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you;" "In My Father's house are many mansions." These mansions in which humanity was not; those mansions in which the blessed spirits were, but to which a child of Adam had never yet mounted, to them He, the second Adam, the Head of the human family, ascended up that He might draw His brethren after Him. On His throne of mighty power He makes intercession, He pleads His death on Calvary. He presents in Himself the whole human family acceptable to the Father, because He is one with Him. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us," presenting each one of us who thus believes in Him as precious before the throne of His Father.
III. He is working not only for, but with, us. He has but imported into His work all the might of His omnipotence. He is at the right hand of power, and yet He is with us, beside us. As this is true of each separate soul, so is it true in the great world-history. All things have been ordered by Him for the elect's sake. While man is left free, each one to do as He will—a true free agent, and, therefore, truly responsible—that hand of power is shaping and moulding events. Ordering all things as the tide of time surges under His eye; each soul in that mighty tide moves as he will, yet the whole tide sways at His bidding, and the earth performs His will. While the ascension of our blessed Lord is, in one sense, the end, in another and yet higher sense it is the beginning, the opening of the true kingdom of grace descending upon us with the Holy Ghost. Again, this presence of Christ is ever present to the soul, and is comfort to the afflicted. Thou hast a great temptation; thou hast fallen, but thou hast the Lord beside thee, and thou mayest lay thy burden upon Him, and thy tempted, weary, fainting soul may rest itself upon the Love which is beside thee.
Bishop Wilberforce, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 542.
References: Mark 16:19.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 253; J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 104. Mark 16:20.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 253.
And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.