Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused their release, so that they might gain a better resurrection.
I. HOW THIS WRITER SPEAKS FROM FULLNESS OF KNOWLEDGE. AS one might think, he has already been tolerably copious, but he hints that there is really much more to tell. He has looked through all the records of God's people, and he finds faith everywhere. Thus has been produced in his mind a strong conviction of what man can do when he believes in the right way. And might we not attain to a similar fullness of knowledge? Reading ecclesiastical history, in the widest sense of the term, we should see how much stronger is the man of simple faith than the man of this world, with all his resources and ingenuity. As knowledge and experience of the right things grow, so must convictions with respect to them deepen.
II. HOW HE CLASSIFIES THE EXAMPLES OF FAITH. He shows us faith active and passive - what it can do and what it can bear. By his function the prophet had to be a man of action, and as the result of his action he had also to be a man of suffering. God sent him out to do special deeds - deeds beyond ordinary resources - and then he had also to make ready for sufferings out of the ordinary way. He who would do great things in the sight of God must be ready also to suffer great things. Live on the level of the world, and you may escape much in the way of toil and strain; but try to achieve the things which Christ sets before you, and then you will find you must not only have strong hands, but a brave and patient heart.
III. THERE IS PLENTY OF WORK FOR FAITH YET TO DO. There are kingdoms to be overcome, not by physical force, not by disciplined armies, but by those who, having yielded first of all to truth, know its claims and its power, and believe in persistent pressing of that truth on others. Righteousness has to be worked out, promises have to be appropriated; and if we would inherit the promises, we must accept the conditions of faith and patience. Our faith can achieve great things, and therefore great things are set before it. The faith of a simple, humble Christian has far greater things within its reach than anything to be attained by the unaided human intellect even at its best.
IV. SIMILARLY THERE IS PLENTY OF TRIAL FOR FAITH YET TO ENDURE. The more there is to be done, the more there is to be suffered. Ingenious torments and cruel deaths there may not be, but the spirit of the world is unchanging. Let a man persevere as seeing the invisible one, and he will have to suffer. He may not be stoned, but he will be pelted with the sneers of thoughtless and ignorant men. Those who through mere self-respect would refrain from a blow with the fist yet delight in the most cutting words. - Y.
Women received their dead.Luther, Wycliffe, Knox, Wesley. Yes, "and others" in every instance. Now, it is of these "women and others" anonymously mentioned here that the writer adds, "Of whom the world was not worthy." Observe that this is not said of any of the great names mentioned previously. That went without the saying. But there was need of emphasising this regarding the unknown heroes of God. The world which extended such poor hospitality to its King has, throughout the ages, made no room for the royal, although unknown, men and women whom the King has sent. One of the hopeful signs of to-day is that the world gives room to the good and the faithful as it never did before. We, too, can belong, if we will, to the " and others." Our names will not be added to those of the world's great ones, nor yet to those of the more prominent heroes of faith, but we can belong to the nameless ones who yet have a glorious record to give. Are we unknown? So were these; yet the story of the triumphs of faith cannot be told without admitting their achievements into the record. So shall it be with us if only we are found faithful. They without us cannot be made perfect. This is God's reason for providing " some better thing for us" than was ever granted them. No age of faith is final or self-inclusive. The one becomes the counterpart of the other. Every generation of faithful heroes shall strike its own note, until all ages shall unitedly perfect the grand chord of music that shall ascend to the ear of God, and thrill heaven with its full and rich harmony.
Not accepting deliverance.
I. Let us take the truth before us AS A CHARACTERISTIC OF THE SAVIOUR'S CONSECRATION. AS His people's Surety and His people's Example, at once the Foundation and the Pattern of all their obedience, it holds true in regard to Christ that " He accepted not deliverance." Is it not true that in our views of Christ and His Surety-work we are apt to limit ourselves to the initial condescension, and forget the life-long struggle? We are apt to fix our attention on the first grand compliance, when the covenant agreement was embraced. Then and thenceforward we regard His obedience as a matter of course — a matter, indeed, involving both continued surrender and continued suffering, but a matter whose cost He had counted, to whose endurance He was shut up, and from whose bitter experiences there was no opportunity of release. And most true it is that the endurance of a Saviour was a matter of course with Him, if what we mean is this, that all the faithfulness of all His mediatorial nature was pledged, and all the energies of His Divine will were directed to the prosecution and the final fulfilment of His task. But if we mean that He was committed to His work so securely as that there was no room for the temptation to recoil from it on His human side, and no battle with self in suppressing that temptation, then we are wrong. For the life-long temptation of Christ lay just here. Over and over again deliverance presented itself; its possibility was suggested by a power from without, its offer was responded to by the weak flesh within. And the victory was of faith — faith like our own — when the Saviour repelled it, and, having escape set before Him, accepted it not. He accepted not deliverance, that He might obtain the resurrection, and the resurrection was better than any deliverance. He laid down His life that He might take it again, and the life re-taken was more powerful and glorious — oh, how far! — than the life He originally laid down.
II. WHAT WAS TRUE IN THE HISTORY OF THE MASTER IS TRUE IN THE HISTORY OF THE DISCIPLE; FAITH, ON OCCASION, MUST BE STRONG TO REFUSE, "ACCEPTING NOT DELIVERANCE." Doubtless the task given Christ to accomplish was different in many respects from the tasks given to us; and as His task was, so was His temptation to recoil from it — different in intensity, perhaps different, too, in kind. But, after all, the refusals have this great point in common, that in each ease there is the rejection of relief, because relief is to be purchased at the expense of duty. Making all due allowance for distinctions, in the saint's case, as in Christ's, there is abundant opportunity for the exercise of faith in the aspect we speak of, its manifestation and triumph in declinature. And perhaps never is faith so signal as when it reveals itself just in this way; never is its nature so pure and exalted as when it toils and endures, "not accepting deliverance." For it is not merely that you make a grace of necessity, and settle yourself down in submission to suffer, because you recognise the suffering you endure to be inevitable; that is something, nay, it is much by itself, for there are various ways of enduring the inevitable, and there are many who meet and experience it amiss. But the victory of faith that we speak of lies here, that when the cup of relief is actually brought near, and the relief that it offers is urged by the tempter, commended by the world, and pled for by all the self-indulgence that lies deep in the human heart — I say the victory of faith lies here, that you bid the proposal away from you, rejecting the outlet for conscience sake and for Christ's. Such is the principle; and on its special applications our daily experience sheds light. Perhaps the burden appointed you is the care of others. Interests may happen to be linked with your conduct, lives may happen to be left in your keeping, whose needs you are obliged to consult for, whose sufferings you are called to alleviate, whose very sins and infirmities you are bound to restrain. There by their side is your post, the opportunity which Providence has given you to use, the task which Providence has assigned you to pursue; and there are times when the work seems thankless, the success doubtful, and the the depressing and irksome. Are there not those whose life, in the appointment of God, seems largely a sacrifice to such claims; and when the temptation comes to absolve themselves, as come it may, through the sense of a seeming failure, the attractions of a pleasanter lot, or the possibility of shifting the responsibility on others, are not theirs the triumph and reward brought before us in the text, as they cleave to the post of self-denial allotted them, "not accepting deliverance"? Or perhaps the burden is more personal, and connects itself with circumstances in your own lot. Embarrassment in worldly affairs, — who knows not what possibilities of temptation lie here, in the retrieving of credit at the expense of truthfulness, and the purchase of relief by the sacrifice of honesty. Is not faith triumphant in declinature when it leads the sufferer at such seasons to resolve, "Let perplexities thicken, and circumstances hem, and disasters threaten as they may, I will abide by whatsoever things are pure, and refuse extrication till extrication is possible with honour, in the way which God discloses, on the terms of which conscience approves"; thus refusing deliverence? But why go farther? The instances are as various as the paths of obedience and suffering, which God in His providence appoints, and the victories possible are as manifold as the temptations to evade or deflect from them.
(W. A. Gray.)A.D. 1546, leaving behind her a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow." Her crime was the denial of the mass. "So this," she wrote, "is the heresy that I hold, and for it must suffer death." She kept the faith to her God; she kept the faith to her friends, for she betrayed no one, enduring shame and agony with meek, unshaken constancy.
(H. Clissold, M. A.)
A better resurrection.
I. THE BETTER RESURRECTION. Imagine to yourselves an event you must in all likelihood meet, or which many of you may already have passed through, when some object of your dearest affection has been torn from you by death. There is the utter blank of desolation — the light of the eyes in which you could read tenderness and truth, quenched — no counsel or comfort, where you could always find it, however sore bestead. And if there came, in that day of darkness, One who gave you back your dead to be with you, to listen to your history of grief — of this very grief — to take your hand in His again, and make you feel He was yours as before — more than before — what could you ask, what could you think of, better than this? And yet if we could for a little rise above feeling, and appeal to reason — the reason which comes of faith — we might see that there is a better resurrection.
1. For think of the place of it. However quiet and happy the home might be to which the earthly life was brought back, it was part of a world which was smitten with the curse. Cares and fears and dangers and griefs were always ready to invade it. And, if we think of the body as the place to which the soul is brought back, it is a home that has also the curse resting on it, subject to pain and disease, which often make death to be chosen rather than life — to long torturing agonies, and to those strange depressions which cloud the soul, so that to those who look out at the windows everything is darkened. It is otherwise with the place of the better resurrection (see Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:3-5.) And the body which here depresses the soul shall be framed to lift it up, to give it perception and vigour, insight and wing, made like unto Christ's glorious body.
2. Then think, by way of comparison, of the company in the place. In the case of all those who were raised again to life in this world, we find that they were restored to the family circle — the child of the Shunammite and the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain and the brother of Martha and Mary. There was an anxiety, if I may so speak, to surround them with their nearest friends when they opened their eyes again, that the first faces they looked on might be those of kindred — of father, mother, brother, sister. It was a merciful arrangement, to break the strange transition, to soothe the agitated, wondering spirit. But there was surely something more in it than this. It was, I think, also predictive. For if these resurrections, as a whole, were intended to help men to the faith of a power stronger than death, they were also intended to lead us to something of the manner of the life beyond. Do they not shadow out this truth, that God will begin our life again among those we have known and loved, and cause us to open our eyes in the bosom of what we shall feel to be a family and a home, with faces round us that are dear and familiar, and voices whose tones we know, ready to reassure us? God will "set the solitary in families," and in some way broken household ties will be re-knit "in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound." Only there will be something better in it. The feeling of sad distrust which sometimes comes over us, as if the truest human friendship had an element of selfishness in it, shall pass away. What we gain here, at intervals, in some chosen crisis of our life — the meeting of souls in one, and profound, untroubled trust in the sense of it — shall then be a fixed condition.
3. Think, then, of the essence of this eternal life. Its essence consists in its entire freedom from sin. The presence of sin in our nature is at the root of every ether evil, and deliverance from suffering in heaven is connected with perfect deliverance from sin. That must be a happy condition when all. shall feel the blessedness of the man whose iniquity is forgiven, and the subject which often causes anxious thought, "Can I look to God as my Friend and Father?" shall be settled for perpetuity — no doubt, nor shadow of a doubt, upon it — but quietness and assurance for ever. And when there shall not only be no guilt on the conscience, but no sin in the heart, no lurking sympathy with it, but every fibre of the root of poison extracted, and the tree of life shall find its counterpart in the perfect fruit of every redeemed soul!
4. But we have to think also of the security of this state. These resurrections of earth were a return to a world of change and death. But the children of the heavenly resurrection "die no more; death hath no more dominion over them." The shadow is all behind, the light before, and the light shall no more go down.
5. There is one thing more, without which the thought of this better resurrection would be incomplete — the presence to which it introduces. The best of these other resurrections brought their subjects into the earthly presence of the Son of God; but this, into His heavenly fellowship.
II. THE HIGHER FAITH REQUIRED FOR THIS RESURRECTION. It needed very great confidence in the living God to believe that He could reanimate the dead frame which the soul had quitted for a few hours or days; but to face entire decay and mouldering dust, and to believe that those who sleep in it shall yet awake and sing — this requires a frame of soul still nobler.
1. It needs more of what I may call the patience of faith. We must endure the scorn of unbelievers, the talk of unchanging earthly laws rolled like the great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and must listen to the taunts of those who rejoice most when they think they hear the iron gates of a materialistic universe grate in upon the grave as an eternal prison. We have to struggle with the murmurs of our own hearts, that it is hard in God to put us to so long and so sore an encounter.
2. It needs also more of what we may call the sanctified imagination of faith. The circle of these earthly resurrections was very narrow and very simple compared with that which we expect. Their faith had only to bring back their dead to the old accustomed house, the well-known seat, the familiar haunts. Ours has to win out a footing for itself from the void and formless infinite, where the scenes and inhabitants and states of mind are so different that our friends seem to have passed away beyond our knowledge. There is an imagination of faith, not unbridled nor unscriptural, which has formed for itself a true and real world beyond death, which gives substance to things hoped for, and thereby helps to the evidence of things not seen. the Bible has encouraged it by its figures — "the tree of life," "the river of life," "the city of gold," "the Father's house of many mansions" — and imagination has no nobler work than to enter among these visions, and brood and muse till they become a palpable and real world: and till those who are not, because God has taken them, are seen walking there.
3. It needs more of the spiritual insight of faith. The faith of those who received their dead back to the present life had a visible Helper with wonder-working power standing before them. Our faith has not such aid. It has a harder, but a nobler work. It must seek to live as seeing Him who is invisible. It must rest for its ultimate foundation, not on any outward sign, not even on any uttered word as spoken to the ear, but on the nature of God Himself, and the life He infuses into the soul — on that basis which Christ has given it, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Christ Himself must be known to us in His ever-living, spiritual power.
III. SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY STRENGTHEN OURSELVES IN THIS HIGHER FAITH.
1. The first thought is one addressed to your reason. We read here of men who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. They surrendered all that life holds dear, and life itself, from loyalty to the God of truth. Not only is the Bible full of this, but the course of history. The noble army of the martyrs is seen in every age, marching on, by scaffold and through fire, into the unseen. Can you imagine that their self-devotion was founded on delusion, and that God has made His world so that the noblest and divinest deeds in its history have a perpetual falsehood at their heart?
2. The next thought is one addressed to your heart. "Women received their dead raised to life again."! Observe the expression, "Women — their dead." That side of human nature which has the deepest affection is clinging to its dead, claiming an abiding right of possession in them, and aiding faith to draw its lost treasure back to its arms. And it is a striking truth that in all the resurrections of which we read there was not only strong faith, but deep love — the love of woman. God intended that our deepest heart affections should be the helpers of our highest hopes, and the instinctive guarantees of a life to come. We have a right to reason that He would either have made our love less deep and lasting, or that there must be a final home in which its longings shall be realised. Every pure affection points us towards a city in the skies; every happy Christian home is a pledge of it; every bereaved heart is a Divine reason for it. A ground this why you should make your family ties so loyal and sacred that they shall keep your dead still yours, and bind you irrevocably to a life to come.
3. The last way we mention of confirming ourselves in this faith is addressed to the spirit. It is gained by the exercise of that spiritual insight to which we have already referred, leading the way to a spiritual life. The object of this sight, and the source of this life, is described by the sacred writer in words that follow — "Looking unto Jesus," etc. Reasoning about immortality may lead us so far, and the instinct of the heart may lead us further; but I know of no certainty save what grows from union with the dying and risen and living Son of God. There is a spring of immortality not only welling out from the throne of God, but ready to rise up in every heart that will admit Him who is the true God and eternal life. It is this faith entering into the soul as a vital principle which formed those ancient martyrs, who counted it all joy to face suffering and shame, and to meet death, when the God of truth summoned them.
(J. Ker, D. D.)I. REFLECT ON THE LESSON TAUGHT US BY THE CONDUCT OF THE ANCIENT SAINTS, THAT THIS EARTH IS NOT OUR HOME.
II. INQUIRE WHAT THERE IS IN HEAVEN WHICH COULD ENCOURAGE THEM TO ENDURE SUCH EXTREME SUFFERINGS. In heaven a full and constant sense of God's favour, and uninterrupted communion with Him, are enjoyed. In heaven the most perfect love and gratitude are exercised towards God. Is it any wonder that the martyrs broke the fiercest terrors of death to reach such a heaven? the glorified saints possess the clearest apprehensions of the perfect and unchangeable happiness of God and of His kingdom. This is a source of the most pure and exalted delight.
III. CONTEMPLATE THE GLORIES OF THE RESURRECTION WHICH THEY HAD IN VIEW.
(E. Griffin, D. D.)
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