The Power and Purpose of the Posthumous Life
2 Kings 13:20-21
And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.…

Death is not the great termination; it is only the great interruption. We are endowed with a being which yearns for endless existence. We have a profound feeling that only eternal existence would justify the Creator in our making. All over the world, especially as men advance in power of reflection, the more fully do they become convinced that the original instinct of the human heart is a Divine implantation, and that man shall measure his duration with the duration of eternity. But when we have said this, we have not said all; when we talk of the boundary, death, being an interruption, we are not thinking mainly of eternal existence in the unseen. There is an impression prevalent among us that, when we come to that boundary stone of our being, we are for ever done with this planet; that we have completed our course, and that there is nothing more to be said; the places that knew us will know us no more; our career is finished; the world henceforth must lack interest and charm for us; we have no more place among the dwellings of men. But that is just the thought I desire to dispute, and I wish to remind you that the interruption which we call death does not deliver even from this world. It only changes the mode of our activity and influence in this world. For there is a life even after the body has perished, and the voice has gone dumb. for ever — there is a voice, there is a life that continues among the children of men. And it is to this our attention is drawn by the peculiar narrative read in your hearing. It is not surprising, that the bones of a prophet should make a man alive, nor that the voice of an Abel should sound with strange force down through the generations. When we come to think of the great duties of life, while, of course, we win consult the living, are we not nearly always directed to the dead? A young man has to go out from England, and he knows not whither he is going; his mother admonishes him to take Abraham as his guide, who also went out into Ur of the Chaldees, but who took God with him. A young man is going into a great city, he is to be tempted and tried, and his minister admonishes him to read Daniel, who, in the midst of Babylon, kept his windows open towards Jerusalem, and held communion with the Highest. Another lad is bound to enter upon the great responsibilities of life, and Paul summons to him the admonitions of a Timothy, or some other servant of God whose influence still continues. And when the conscience is burdened with guilt, and the soul burns for peace, it is not to some living minister, to some living Church, to some living power, but it is rather to the death of Jesus Christ, and through that death up to His throne, that the inquiring soul is pointed. And just here we touch on the historic marvel of the ages — Jesus Christ. He illustrates transcendently my thesis. We are fascinated by His earthly career — its purity, simplicity, graciousness, beauty — all attract us. And yet, after all allowances are made for the sick healed, the dead raised, and the outcasts reclaimed, how immeasurably greater has been His posthumous influence than was His brief, humble life! So palpable is this that some theological schools maintain that this surviving influence is what He meant when He promised the mission of the Holy Ghost. It is claimed that just as we feel the spirit of Browning, or of Morris, or of Ruskin, when we meditate on their works, so, whenever we think of religion, the spiritual effluence of our Lord's life is deeply realised. I am not persuaded that this restriction of His promise is warranted; but still we must all admit that the Christ of to-day is more potent than was the Christ of Nazareth, and that, as the ages roll, He becomes an ever-increasing power on the thought, conscience, and conduct of the individual, and on the movements and development of society as a whole. So that, turn as we may, we find that patriarchs and apostles, and fathers and mothers, and poets and school teachers, and enthusiasts and men of letters, and politicians and statesmen, and preeminently the Christ, all these from out the unseen, are moulding us and shaping us. But wherein lies their peculiar power, because certainly this posthumous life is a most potent life? How are you to explain it? I suppose one reason why it has such influence with us is, that it is the most independent life. The dead respect no one. We are frail, fallible, liable to change; but when the curtain falls, the work is ended. If it is an incomplete thing, like the statue of Moses, it must for ever remain unfinished. No tears can change it, no regrets revolutionise it. There it abides. "What is written is written." Moreover, this is an enlarged life. It becomes universal. We are all more or less provincial. We are hedged in by our narrow, local limitations. It is difficult for us to rise above them. But when we die, that is all cast aside. Do you suppose when I read Thomas a Kempis I think of him as a Roman Catholic? Not at all. I read his noble words as universal truths; he has ceased to be aught but a Christian. Very well; when death has emancipated us, and we are free of our limitations, then the posthumous life surges onward, influencing and controlling men. And we never really think of Jesus Christ as a Jew when we pray to Him, and carry to Him our burdens and our guilt. The world has lost sight of the localisms of His ministry. To us He is neither Jew, Greek, nor Barbarian. He is quite beyond all racial distinctions. He is the "Son of Man" — the representative of humanity. When He lived He may have been to His followers provincial — but now He has lost the complexion of the old Hebrew race, and has become world-wide, cosmopolite, universal. Moreover, I suppose this power is to be traced to its continuity, to — its indestructibility. There is a charm in that which lasts. The purpose of the posthumous life. I have tried to analyse the power, and what is the purpose? Why is it that God permits us all to share in this posthumous life? And why is it that God reminds you through me of our posthumous life? It is to impart a higher sense of responsibility. It is to teach you in your little day, it is to assure you that your influence will not die with you, however humble you may be. You are starting currents that will flow into the sea of existence beyond your day. You are throwing a stone into the mighty sea of being, and the waves will extend in ever-widening circles until they beat on the shores of eternity. Great is it for a man to live; awful the responsibility. It is likewise the purpose to add new dignity to humanity. For it is responsibility that makes dignity. You are engaged in a work that is marvellous in its power and in its range. Try to understand it, you will be anxious to be fully equipped, you will be anxious to realise fully what the meaning of God's Word, when it talks to you about a judgment to come. Nor do I think I am far wrong in asserting that we have in this posthumous life a suggestion of what the scientists call the survival of the fittest. True it is "the evil that men do lives after them," and it is not true that the "good is oft interred with their bones." There is a famous picture of the battle with the Huns which decided the fate of Europe. It presents the field at night covered with the slain, but over and above the wounded and the dying the ghosts of both armies are seen in deadly conflict. Though dead, they yet fight. So it is with truth and error, right and wrong, virtue and vice, and with the hosts of those who in former ages were arrayed on the side either of light or darkness. The conflict continues, and ultimate victory must rest with the cause of justice and honour.

(G. C. Lorimer, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.

WEB: Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.

The Bones of Elisha
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