I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.…
1. Science may throw no barrier in the way of belief in immortality; nature and the heart of man may suggest clear intimations of a future life; human society may demand another life to complete the suggestions and fill up the lacks of this; but, for some reason, all such proof fails to satisfy us. It holds the mind, but does not minister to the heart.
2. It is noticeable also that the faith of natural evidence awakens no joyful enthusiasm in masses of mankind. Plato and Cicero discourse of immortality with a certain degree of warmth, but their countrymen get little comfort from it. The reason is evident. The mere fact that I shall live tomorrow does not sensibly move me. Something must be joined with existence before it gets power.
3. We will now consider the way in which Christ treated the subject.
I. HE ASSUMED THE RECEIVED DOCTRINE AND BUILT UPON IT. When He entered on His ministry He found certain imperfect or germinal truths existing in Jewish theology. He found a doctrine of God, partial in conception; He perfected it by revealing the Divine Fatherhood. He found a doctrine of sin and righteousness turning upon external conduct; He transferred it to the heart and spirit. He found a doctrine of immortality, held as mere future existence. His treatment of this doctrine was not so much corrective as accretive. Hence He never uses any word corresponding to immortality (which is a mere negation — unmortal), but always speaks of life. He never makes a straight assertion of it except once, when the Sadducees pressed Him with a quibbling argument against the resurrection. Elsewhere He simply assumes it. But an assumption is often the strongest kind of argument. It implies such conviction in the mind of the speaker that there is no need of proof.
II. IN HIS MIND THE INTENSE AND ABSOLUTE CONSCIOUSNESS OF GOD CARRIES WITH IT IMMORTALITY, AS IT DOES THE WHOLE BODY OF HIS TRUTH. Within this universe, at its centre, is world around which all others revolve, the sun of suns, the centre of all systems, whose potency reaches to the uttermost verge, holding them steady to their courses. It is not otherwise in morals. Given the fact of God, and all other truth takes its place without question. Hence, when there is an overpowering, all-possessing sense of God as there was in Christ, truth takes on absolute forms; hence it was that He spoke with authority. It was Christ's realization of the living God that rendered His conviction of eternal life so absolute. We can but notice how grandly Christ reposed upon this fact of immortal life. He feels no need of examining the evidences or balancing proofs. He stands steadily upon life, life endless by its own Divine nature. Death was no leap in the dark to Him; it was simply a door leading into another mansion of God's great house. It is proper to ask here, "Is it probable that Christ was mistaken? That His faith in immortality was but an in. tense form of a prevailing superstition?" If we could find any weakness elsewhere in His teachings, there would be ground for such questions. But as a moral teacher He stands at the head, unimpeachable in the minutest particular. Is it probable that, true in all else, He was in fault in this one respect? That a body of truth all interwoven and suffused with life is based upon an illusion of life? If one tells me ninety-nine truths, I will trust him in the hundredth, especially if it is involved in those before. Build me a column perfect in base and body, and I will know if the capital is true. When the clearest eyes that ever looked on this world and into the heavens, and the keenest judgment that ever weighed human life, and the purest heart that ever throbbed with human sympathy, tells me that man is immortal, I repose on His teaching in perfect trust. It is reason to see with the wise, and to feel with the good. Still another distinction must be made; we do not accept immortality because Jesus, the wise young Jew, wove it into His precepts, but because the Christ, the Son of God and of man — Humanity revealing Deity — makes it a part of that order of human history best named as the reconciliation of the world to God.
III. HE DOES NOT THINK OF IT AS A FUTURE, BUT AS A PRESENT FACT. As time in the Divine mind is an eternal now, so it seems to have been with Christ. If the cup of life is full, there is little sense of past or future; the present is enough. When Christ speaks of eternal life, He does not mean future endless existence; but fullness or perfection of life. That it will go on forever is a matter of course, but it is not the important feature of the truth.
IV. And thus we are brought to the fundamental fact that HE CONNECTED LIFE OR IMMORTALITY WITH CHARACTER. Life, as mere continuance of being, is not worth thinking about. Of what value is the mere adding of days to days if they are full of sin? Practically such life is death, and so He names it. There can be no real and abiding faith in immortality until it becomes wedded to the spiritual nature. When life begins to be true, it announces itself as an eternal thing to the mind; as a caged bird when let loose into the sky might say, "Now I know that my wings are made to beat the air in flight;" and no logic could ever persuade the bird that it was not designed to fly; but when caged, it might have doubted at times, as it beat the bars of its prison with unavailing stroke, if its wings were made for flight. So it is not until a man begins to use his soul aright that he knows for what it is made. When he puts his life into harmony with God's laws; when he begins to pray; when he clothes himself with the graces of Christian faith and conduct, when he begins to live unto his spiritual nature, he begins to realize what life is — a reality that death and time cannot touch. But when his life is made up of the world, it is not strange that it should seem to himself as liable to perish with the world. Those who believe have everlasting life. Others may exist, but existence is not life. Others may continue to exist, but continuance is not immortality. To lift men out of existence into life was Christ's mission.
V. He not only gave us the true law, BUT WAS HIMSELF A PERFECT ILLUSTRATION OF IMMORTALITY, and even named Himself by it — the Life. It is a great thing for us that this truth has been put into actual fact. Human nature is crowded with hints and omens of it, but prophecy does not convince till it is fulfilled. And from the Divine side also we get assurances of endless life; but in so hard a matter we are like Thomas, who needed the sight and touch to assure him. And in Christ we have both — the human omen and the Divine promise turned into fact. In some of the cathedrals of Europe, on Christmas eve, two small lights, typifying the Divine and human nature, are gradually made to approach one another until they meet and blend, forming a bright flame. Thus, in Christ, we have the light of two worlds thrown upon human destiny. The whole bearing of Christ towards death, and His treatment of it, was as one superior to it, and as having no lot nor part in it. He will indeed bow his head in obedience to the physical laws of the humanity He shares, but already He enters the gates of Paradise, not alone but leading a penitent child of humanity by the hand. And in order that we may know He simply changed worlds, He comes back and shows Himself alive; for He is not here in the world simply to assert truth, but to enact it. And still further to show us how phantasmal death is, He finally departs in all the fullness of life, simply drawing about Himself the thin drapery of a cloud. Conclusion: A true and satisfying sense of immortality cannot be taken second hand. We cannot read it in the pages of a book, whether of nature or inspiration. We cannot even look upon the man Jesus issuing from the tomb, and draw from thence a faith that yields peace. There must be fellowship with the Christ of the Resurrection before we can feel its power; in other words, we must get over upon the Divine side of life before we can be assured of eternal life. "Join thyself," says , "to the eternal God, and thou wilt be eternal."
(T. T. Munger.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.