And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:…
How full of consolation is this grand passage! It breathes a most majestic sympathy.
I. The text is most consolatory in the PROSPECT Of death. Keys are symbols of authority and law, and these keys of death remind us that government and order prevail in the realm of mortality. The gate of the grave is not blown about by the winds of chance; it has keys, it is opened and shut by royal authority. The engineer who constructs a locomotive knows what distance it will cover before it is worn out, one engine being calculated to accomplish a greater mileage, another less. Using material of a certain weight and quality, the engineer knows with tolerable accuracy what wear and tear his machine will endure, and, barring accidents, how long it will run. Thus He by whose hand we are fashioned knows the possibilities of our individual constitution, how far the throbbing machinery will go ere the weary wheels stand still; our appointed days are written in our physiological powers, not in some mystical Book of Fate. From this point of view it is not difficult to understand how one organism will endure for long journey, whilst another necessarily breaks down, having accomplished a few stages only. We said, "barring accidents," the locomotive will cover a given distance; but what of the accidents which may put an end to the career of the locomotive long before its possibilities are exhausted? and what of the thousand accidents which put a period to human life in its very prime and power? The answer is, Under the personal sovereign government of heaven no real accident is possible to virtue. The woodman knows how trees of different species require to be felled at various seasons; it is best that some are cut down with the fresh leaves of spring upon them, that the axe smites others whilst they are robed in summer's pomp, whilst a third order must fall when the sap dies down in autumn and the leaves are tinged with the colours of decay. The forester knows when to smite the forest glories; and there is One who knows why some human lives cease in their sweet spring, why others perish in manhood's pride, and why, again, others are spared to patriarchal years. At the right time, at the right place, in the right way, shall we suffer the stroke of mortality. Death to some may be a blind fury cutting short life's thin thread; but the Christian knows that the capital power is in the hands of One whose name is Love, and before His fingers turn the key His eyes of flame see the necessity and dictate the moment.
II. The text is most consolatory in the ARTICLE of death. We have here, not only teaching concerning the law of death, but also precious doctrine touching its Lord. Jesus Christ is the Lord of death. The law of death is the active will of Jesus Christ. It is the glory of Christianity that it consistently exhibits law, not as some metaphysical rule or impersonal force, but as the action of a personal, intelligent, loving Ruler. The law of creation is the will of a wise and gracious Creator, who rejoices in all that His hands have made; the law of evolution is the will of an Evolver, who with wise purpose and unfailing intelligence presses forward all things to some "far-off Divine event"; the law of dissolution is the will of a just and infallible Judge, who determines all crises. When Dr. James Hamilton was dying his brother spoke to him of "death's cold embrace." Said the dying saint, "There is no cold embrace, William; there is no cold embrace." If our dissolution were effected simply by some mysterious abstract law working in the dark, it were indeed a cold embrace; but it is no longer cold when it is the pressure of that breast on which John leaned. In the light of this text death becomes transfigured; the keys are in the pierced hand; the keys are golden, they open the door into heaven. Whilst we think of these things even now strange music steals upon our senses, the rough wilderness smiles with flowers, a light above the brightness of the sun touches pain and sickness and sepulchre into gold, and in the hour and article of death these foretastes shall be fulfilled beyond all imagination; we shall not taste death; we shall not see it.
III. The text inspires deep consolation touching the issues of death. "I am alive for evermore." "I have the keys of the invisible universe."
1. There is a limit to the power of death. It does not destroy the personality; the dead may live again, live in new power and splendour.
2. There is a limit to the range of death. "Alive unto the ages of the ages." In the face of those oriental systems which threatened men with endless deaths, transmigrations, and metamorphoses, systems which modern paganism seeks to revive, Christianity holds that the faithful pass through one eclipse only into personal, conscious, immortal life. The law of death is not the law of all worlds; there are spheres where it has no place, golden ages undimmed by its shadow. Christ alive for evermore declares that immortality is the prerogative of the highest being also. The monad is inaccessible to death by being too low; man in Christ shall be inaccessible to death by being too high. "Fear not." True, we can never be wholly reconciled to death. Darwin used to go into the London Zoological Gardens, and, standing by the glass case containing the cobra di capello, put his forehead against the glass while the cobra struck out at him. The glass was between them: Darwin's mind was perfectly convinced as to the inability of the snake to harm him, yet he would always dodge. Time after time he tried it, his will and reason keeping him there, his instinct making him shrink. The instinct was stronger than both will and reason. And it is much like this with the Christian's attitude toward death: he knows that its sting cannot harm him, but there is an instinct within him that causes him to shrink whenever he comes into contact with the ghastly thing, and this instinct will not be altogether denied whatever the Christian reason and will may say. But in this shrinking is no terror or despair.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: