John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be to you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come…
Simple as these words are, it is perhaps impossible for us to understand how deep and blessed their meaning was to him who wrote them. Their brief sentence, beautiful in its brevity, must have formed his only strength against the powerful influences that tended to depress his faith. To that old man, gazing on the desolate sea, and thinking of that unseen and boundless ocean in which all things seemed to perish, every wave which broke on the shores of Patmos would seem to speak of the omnipotence of death, if there were no human Christ exalted above its power. But such a One there was. John saw Him, and His name was this — "the First Begotten of the dead." The name, "first begotten," implies that He, the first who rose, should lead the great armies of the sons of God to a conquest over death, thereby implying that He was the first who revealed to them the certain truth of their deathless destiny. John says, "He is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth." Between these three facts there is a fundamental connection. They teach us, then, that unless Christ had risen, His witness to God and His truth would have been imperfect and vain, and that on His rising stands His kingship over men. And if that be true, it is evident that unless we realise in our individual experience the meaning of "Christ, the first begotten of the dead," we can neither understand nor feel the power of the testimony which He bore to God.
I. Let us inquire on WHAT GROUNDS, APART FROM THOSE GIVEN BY THE RISEN REDEEMER, MAN COULD BUILD ANY BELIEF IN A DEATHLESS LIFE. Let us imagine that there is no Christ, and we shall find that every ground of belief will fail us.
1. We may grant at once that in hours of glad and hopeful feeling nature might seem to suggest to man a life beyond the sleep of the grave, and that, for a time, he might think he believed it. But that is not a true test. To judge of the real personal value of such natural suggestions, we must test them in times of darkness, doubt, and sorrow. Do you think that then men can rise to faith on the strength of some dim and mystic hint which nature appears to convey — that, because she renews her life, man's life will rise from the tomb? No! The human spirit, startled at its own doubts, and anxiously punting for belief, can never build its faith in a thing so awfully glorious upon any emblems such as those.
2. Again, men have tried to find a proof of immortality by reasoning from the great law that God leaves none of His works unfinished. We admit that this argument is very strong. When taken in union with the truth of Christ, it seems to prove unanswerably the immortality of man. But we can, perhaps, show that, if there were no Christ, it would furnish no certain proof, but only indicate a probability. For, mark, it assumes that we can tell whether man's life is completed or not. I know God's works are never unfinished, but may not man's life have answered all its ends, though we see not how? The insect sports its life away during a summer morning; the "bird pipes his lone desire, and dies unheard amid his tree." And man, before God, is but an insect of a day; even compared with God's angels, he is an insignificant creature; and may not this strange life of ours have answered the purposes God designed?
3. Once more, men have appealed to the instincts of the human heart as pledges of immortality. These beliefs might afford convincing proofs but for two facts. The first is, that sin deadens aspiration, denies the Divine, and blots out the heavenly. Sin stifles those yearnings after the spiritual and eternal, which nothing finite can satisfy. The sinner's eye glances not beyond the visible. The second fact is, that by clothing all faith in a future with terror, sin tends to produce disbelief in it.
II. WE PROCEED TO NOTE HOW CHRIST'S RISING IS THE GREAT REVELATION OF IMMORTALITY.
1. On the one hand, the fact of His rising reveals it to every man. No mere voice from the unseen world would satisfy man's heart. A real Son of God and of man must descend into the dark unknown, and come forth a conqueror. Man stood before the grave in doubt; the Christ rose, the doubt was gone.
2. The risen Christ reveals immortality in a still deeper sense to the Christian. Christ rose, and the man who is in Christ realises the resurrection now. With Christ he is dead to the old life, and is risen with Him into a new spiritual world.
(E. L. Hull, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;