I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.…
This saying is only to be fully understood in the light of the Resurrection and Ascension. Christ has taken the measure of death; death was to be no real interruption of His ever-continuing life. Already He sees the Resurrection beyond. He treats Death as an already vanquished enemy. Observe:
I. WHAT OUR LORD'S WORDS DO NOT MEAN. They do not mean that the immortality of the soul of man is dependent upon the work or life of Christ. Man is an immortal being, just as he is a thinking and feeling being by the original terms of his nature. Any of us may see who will consider how generally unlike the spirit or soul of man is to any merely material creature.
1. The soul of man knows itself to be capable of continuous development. However vigorous a tree or an animal may be, it soon reaches a point at which it can grow no longer. Its vital force is exhausted; it can do no more. With the soul, whether as a thinking or feeling power, we can never say that it has exhausted itself. When a man of science has made a great discovery, or a man of letters has written a great book, or a statesman has carried a series of great measures we cannot say — "He has done his all." Undoubtedly, as the body moves towards decay it inflicts something of its weakness upon its spiritual companion. But the soul constantly resists, asserting its own separate and vigorous existence. The mind knows that each new effort, instead of exhausting its powers, enlarges them, and that if only the physical conditions necessary to continued exertion are not withdrawn, it will go on continuously making larger and nobler acquirements. So too with the heart, the conscience, the sense of duty. One noble act suggests another: one great sacrifice for truth or duty prompts another. "Be not weary in well-doing" is the language of the Eternal Wisdom to the human will.
2. The spirit is conscious of and values its own existence. This is not the case with any material living forms, however lofty or beautiful. The most magnificent tree only gives enjoyment to other beings; it never understands that itself exists; it is not conscious of losing anything when it is cut down. An animal feels pleasure and pain, but it feels each sensation as it comes; it never puts them together, or takes the measure of its own life, and looks on it as a whole. The animal lives wholly in the present, practically it has no past, nor does it look forward. How different with the conscious, self-measuring spirit of man! Man's spirit lives more in the past and in the future than in the present, exactly in the degree in which it makes the most of itself. And the more the spirit makes of its powers and resources, the more earnestly does it desire prolonged existence. Thus, the best of the heathens longed to exist after death, that they might continue to make progress in all such good as they had begun in this life, in high thoughts and in excellent resolves. And with these longings they believed that they would then exist after all when this life was over. The longing was itself a sort of proof that its object was real; for how was its existence to be explained if all enterprise was to be abruptly broken off by the shock of death?
3. Unless a spiritual being is immortal, such a being counts for less in the universe than mere inert matter. For matter has a kind of immortality. Within the range of our experience, no matter ceases to exist; it only takes new shapes, first in one being, and then in another. It is possible that the destruction of the world at the Last Day will be only a re-arrangement of the sum total of matter which now makes up the visible universe. If man's spirit naturally perishes, the higher part of his nature therefore is much worse off than the chemical ingredients of his body. For man's spirit cannot be resolved like his body, into form and material; the former perishing while the latter survives. Man's spirit either exists in its completeness, or it ceases to exist. Each man is himself: he can become no other. His memory, his affections, his way of thinking and feeling, are all his own: they are not transferable. If they perish, they perish altogether. And therefore it is a reasonable and very strong presumption that spirit is not, in fact, placed at such disadvantage, and that, if matter survives the dissolution of organic forms, much more must spirit survive the dissolution of the material forms with which it has been associated. These are the kind of considerations by which thoughtful men, living without the light of revelation, might be led to see the reasonableness, the very high probability of a future life. This teaching of nature is presupposed by Christianity, and it is no true service to our Master to make light of it. At the same time, it is true that, outside the Jewish revelation, immortality was not treated by any large number of men as anything like a certainty. Jesus Christ assumed it as certain in all that He said with reference to the future life. And it is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ — which has in this, as in so many other ways, opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. What has been may be. And thus the Christian faith has brought "immortality to light." And what a solemn fact is this immortality of ours! A hundred years hence no one of us will be still in the body: we shall have passed to another sphere of being. But if the imagination can take in these vast tracts of time, ten millions years hence we shall still exist, each one with his memory, will, and conscious contact, separate from all other beings in our eternal resting place.
II. WHAT CHRIST'S WORDS DO MEAN. Clearly something is meant by "Life" which is higher than mere existence; not merely beyond animal existence, but beyond the mere existence of a spiritual being. We English use "life" in the sense of an existence which has a purpose and makes the most of itself. And the Greeks had an especial word to describe the true life of man, his highest spiritual energy. This is the word employed by our Lord and by St. Paul. This enrichment and elevation of being is derived from our Lord. He is the Author of our new life, just as our first parent is the source of our first and natural existence. On this account St. Paul calls Him the Second Adam. And, in point of fact, He is the parent of a race of spiritual men who push human life to its highest capacities of excellence. When our Lord was upon earth He communicated His Life to men, by coming in contact with them. Men felt the contagion of a presence, the influence of which they could not measure, a presence from which there radiated a subtle, mysterious energy, which was gradually taking possession of them they knew not exactly how, and making them begin to live a new and higher life. What that result was upon four men of very different types of character we may gather from the reports of the Life of Christ which are given us by the evangelists. But at last He died, and arose and disappeared from sight. And it is of this after time that He says, "Because I live, ye shall live also." How does He communicate His life when the creative stimulus of His visible Presence has been withdrawn?
1. By His Spirit. That Divine and Personal force, whereby the mind and nature of the unseen Saviour is poured into the hearts and minds and characters of men, was to be the Lord and Giver of this life to the end of time. (John 16:14; Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
2. By the Christian sacraments, the guaranteed points of contact with our unseen Saviour; for in them we may certainly meet Him and be invigorated by Him as we toil along the road of our pilgrimage.Conclusion:
1. It is this new life which makes it a blessing to have the prospect before us that we shall individually exist forever.
2. Our immortality is certain. But what sort of immortality is it to be?
Parallel VersesKJV: I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.