George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Christ and the Hope of Immortality
Our Savior Jesus Christ...hath brought...immortality to light through the gospel--2Ti 1:10
The Mingling of the New and Old
There are two ways in which Christ has worked in His long task of the regeneration of mankind. He has brought among us from heaven what is new, and He has consecrated what was old. There is a widespread tendency in theological thought to belittle the originality of Jesus just as once there was the opposite tendency to ignore Jesus' relation to the past. But both extremes are not only false to Scripture, but they are also false to Christian experience which always blends the new and old together. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. There are ten thousand times ten thousand lives that can testify to that. There is something original and fresh and new in every truly regenerate experience. And yet the grace that has inwrought the new takes into its bosom all the old, and uses it for the service of the kingdom. Old tenderness begin to live again. Old hopes lift up their faces to the morning. Chords that were broken begin again to vibrate with a music that whispers of the long ago. So in Christian experience as in the Scripture, there is ever the mingling of the new and the old; new power and, through the inflow of that power, old hopes and yearnings and longings realized.
The Yearning for Immortality
And among these yearnings of mankind, one of the deepest is that for immortality. Christ did not bring it here, He found it here, deep in the shadowy places of the soul. We have read of instances in which a great musician has heard a beautiful voice out in the street. It was that of some poor girl singing for bread in the shadow of the London twilight. And recognizing the beauty of the voice, the master has had it trained at his own cost till it became a thing of joy to multitudes. In some such way, out in the crowded thoroughfares, our Master heard the voice of immortality. And He recognized the range and beauty of it, undisciplined and uncultured as it was. And so this Easter, the question which I want to ask is this, How did Christ train that singer of the street? In other words, what difference has Christ made to the yearning of the heart for immortality? What is the contribution of our Lord to the belief in a life beyond the grave? I think, laying aside what is debatable, we may sum it up in these three propositions. First, Christ has confirmed the hope of immortality. Second, Christ has enriched the thought of immortality. Third, Christ has enhanced the power of immortality.
Christ Confirmed the Hope of Immortality
Now I do not think, friends, that I speak unguardedly when I call the hope of immortality a universal hope. We come upon it in the remotest ages and find it among the most barbarous peoples. It was this faith that built the pyramids. It was this that reared the mighty Etrurian tombs. It was this that led men to embalm their dead and to lavish art and treasure on embalming. It was this that placed the food within the coffin and the piece of money in the corpse's hand, which slaughtered the horses of the departed warrior and burned the widow on her husband's pyre. It was this that made Socrates despise his poison as something that could not touch his real self. It was this that drew Plato to his loftiest argument in words that thrill and throb unto this hour. From the lowest depths of damp and sunless forests to the heights of intellectual and spiritual genius, men have cherished the hope of immortality. The strange thing is that that undying hope has never, out of Christ, become a certainty. It is an instinct of all untutored hearts, and yet an instinct that never has been verified. And this is the first great service of the Lord to that universal hope of immortality, that He has turned it, for all who trust in Him, into a full and glorious assurance.
If, then, you ask me how He accomplished that, I reply that the answer is twofold. He has done it first by the doctrine He has given us of the relationship of God and man. Christ's proof of immortality is not our instinct; Christ's proof of immortality is God. If we are His children and if He truly loves us, it is incredible to Christ that we should cease to be. Once realize the Fatherhood of God, and Jesus was never weary of proclaiming it, and on the bosom of that Fatherhood there nestles the immortality of man. There is no proof that I am an immortal being merely because God is my creator. He is the creator of these myriad creatures that dance and die upon a summer's evening. But if God be my Father and if He really loves me with the splendor and passion of a father's love, then I am His and He is mine forever. Here, for instance, is an earthly father standing beside the deathbed of his child. And he bows his head over a breaking heart, and he strives to say, "Thy will be done." But ah! had he the power to baffle death and to drive him across the threshold of the home, with what a will would he exercise that power. My brother and sister, God always has that power, and if He loves as an earthly father loves, death will never rob Him of His child. It is thus that Christ has confirmed our human yearning. He has rooted it in the Fatherhood of God. He has taught us that at our worst we are so dear to God that nothing shall ever separate us from Him. Christ's proof of immortality is not an argument built on the disproportion's of humanity. His proof is a love that will not let us go.
But Christ has not only confirmed it by His teaching. He has also confirmed it by His life. The life of Jesus, for the seeing eye, is the crowning argument for immortality. One of my acquaintances in Glasgow is a German gentleman who has been resident in Scotland thirty years. Well, when I spend an evening in his company, his fatherland grows very real to me. One of my old friends who was at college with me is now an honored missionary in Livingstonia, and there is nothing more living for me than Livingstonia after an hour or two with Donald Fraser. Now that was the kind of impression Jesus made. He irresistibly suggested heaven. He lives so near the frontiers of eternity that the glory of it smote Him on the face. And men awoke to feel that all their yearning for a life that was larger than the life of time was answered in the life of Jesus Christ. He satisfied the longing of the heart. He was the confirmation of its surmise. He carried in Himself, for all who knew Him, the overwhelming proof of a beyond. And it is this, sealed in the resurrection, that has touched the flickering hope of all the world and turned it into the certainty of Christendom.
Christ Has Enriched the Thought of Immortality
Now I hesitate to make broad and sweeping statements when I am so conscious of imperfect knowledge, but there is one broad statement I can make, I think, without any fear of contradiction. It is that in the ancient, as in the savage world, immortality has always been a dreary prospect. It has never thrilled with any sense of joy, but rather with a sense of desolation. It has never been thought of as a life enriched, but always as a life impoverished; never as a life to be desired, but rather as a lot to be endured. There are one or two passages in the Old Testament that rise magnificently into a clearer air: "In thy presence is fullness of joy"; "I know that my redeemer liveth." But these are the utterances of glorious souls who saw like Abraham the day of Christ, and the usual outlook is different from that. The future is a shadowy realm of silence. It is a lonely, desolate existence. There is no vision of God in Sheol nor any voice of praise nor any human warmth or cheerfulness. And you cannot wonder, when you remember that, how the saintliest Jews shrunk from it with horror and cried in agony when death approached, "Deliver me from going down to the pit."
My brother, I need hardly say to you how radically Christ has altered that. If He has deepened the shadows for all who are impenitent, He has banished them for all who are His own. Just as God, when He takes some sluggish creature and enriches it with new wealth of being, gives it a new capacity for joy, but also a new capacity for pain; so Christ, taking the thought of immortality, left it no longer dull and rudimentary but capable of all the blessedness of heaven and all the anguish and bitterness of hell. Enrich the great idea of patriotism, and you shall have blood in it as well as triumph. Enrich the great idea of home, and you shall have anguish there as well as love. Enrich the great idea of immortality, and you shall have joy and glory in its compass and also, by a law inevitable, the possibility of awful woe. Now that is exactly what Jesus Christ has done. He has heightened and deepened immortality. He has made it far more glorious than before. He has made it far more dreadful than before. He has filled it for the finally impenitent with an agony of remorse that is appalling, and He has filled it for every childlike heart with a bliss that is beyond compare. Eternity can never be colorless again for anyone who has heard the word of Jesus. Either it is unutterable loss, or else it is unutterable gain. And that is what I mean when I suggest that Christ has enriched the thought of immortality as He has enriched the thought of motherhood and home.
Christ Has Enhanced the Power of Immortality
Now, of course, all hopes must have a certain power. Men are always molded by their hopes. The kind of thing you long for in the shadow always affects and influences character. But it is unique, and has often been observed, that among all the hopes which men have cherished, few have been so powerless out of Christ as the universal hope of immortality. As if a child at play should find a diamond and look on it merely as a curious pebble and only understand its priceless value when one passed by who had the eye to see, so in the garden of the heart men found eternity and never understood the riches of it till Someone came along whose hands were pierced. The most that the future had ever done for men was to fill them with a vague and haunting fear. It had never inspired them, never come with comfort, never upheld them when the way was weary. And what I say is that Jesus took that yearning, lying unused in every human soul, and turned it into one of the mightiest powers that has ever been brought to bear upon humanity.
Think, for example, of how the Christian faith has brought immortality to bear on work. It has given an impulse to all honest toil that has practically changed the face of Christendom. If all our striving is to cease at death--if every effort is to be ended there, well might we ask, when effort costs so much, whether all our effort were worthwhile. But if all we have striven to do, and all we have failed to do, is to be perfected in the eternal morning, then in the dreariest hour or task we pluck up heart again. Our toil is not a task of three score years. Our toil is a task that has eternal issues. Every capacity that we have fought our way to, we shall carry over into the beyond. So in the thick of it there steals upon our ear the music of the distant triumph-song, and we thank God and take courage by the way. Divorce our duty from our immortality, and duty becomes incredibly hard. It is when a man can say, I am forever, that he can say with a glad heart, I ought. And that is why duty has blossomed like the rose, since Jesus lived, and died, and rose again, because He has touched it with the hand of the forever.
Immortality's Influence on Sorrow
Think, lastly, how our Christian faith has brought immortality to bear on sorrow. It has given beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. You young people, who have not drunk of sorrow yet, will think I am using exaggerated language. To you it is Glasgow which is intensely real and the beyond which is the pageant of a dream. But there is someone sitting beside you here tonight who has laid her treasure in a little grave, and for her it is Glasgow that is the place of shadows, and the one intense reality is heaven. The one thing love refuses to believe is the foolish doctrine of annihilation. Love wants the loved one not for twenty years. Love wants the loved one forever and forever. And now comes Christ to every breaking heart, and says, "Let not your heart be troubled. In my Father's house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you." What is all your philosophy to that, splendid though be the triumphs of philosophy? Do you think your philosophy will climb those attic stairs and give its comforts to that lonely widow living there? Yet that is what Christ is doing every day in the lonely attic room and in the crowded Babylon, to Queen Alexandra mourning for her brother and to the father mourning for his child. And we do not sorrow as those who have no hope. We are begotten into a lively hope. "In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you." Death is no journey into the obscure night where the wild beasts are crying in the dark. It is the passing for all who are in Christ into a larger and a brighter room.
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