That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.—Php_3:10-11.
1. Paul’s first sight of Christ was a sight of the risen Lord. On the way to Damascus he first knew Christ, and it was in the power of His resurrection. And this first sight gave a direction to all the thoughts he had about Him; and, like all men who have profound experiences and a mental history, he started from that which made the crisis in his own life, and put the resurrection in the forefront of his preaching. Among the philosophers on Mars’ hill he preached the resurrection,—an idea so foreign to Greek speculation that they could not understand him. They thought “resurrection” was a deity which he wished to introduce; and in some perplexity they canvassed his sermon, saying, “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.” With the Corinthians, who were inclined to doubt the bodily resurrection, he could come to no compromise. He pushed the question to the extreme. He showed how if this was lost all was lost. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Ye are yet in your sins.”
Kingsley once questioned Turner as to his source of inspiration for his masterpiece of colour and arrangement, “The Storm at Sea.” “I painted it,” replied Turner, “under the stimulus of a personal experience. I was, at my own desire, lashed to the mast of a ship in a gale off the coast of Holland that I might study every incident in detail.”1 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Following on to Know the Lord, 121.]
2. Now there is no doubt that in the midst of afflictions, such as Paul then endured, a very special knowledge of Christ might be attained. In the ordinary life of preaching, with the necessity lying on the preacher of finding what in Christ was applicable on each occasion, and with the many hardships and persecutions which this life entailed, he must have attained to a profound knowledge of Christ through both the channels of reflection and experience. But in his two years’ imprisonment he had opportunity for long, continuous, connected thought on Christ, and to while away the tedium of the weary hours this must have been his chief resource; and he had also, in his tribulation and bonds, long experience of what resources of consolation and strength were in Him. But all this knowledge did not satisfy him. It rather spurred him on to long for more. There were treasures of wisdom and knowledge not yet opened up to him; there was a depth of feeling to which he had not yet attained. And his prayer was that he might know Christ in a more all-sided way—penetrate further into Him by his thoughts, and feel Him more profoundly in his emotions: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
A stranger, watching the countenance or actions of your chosen friend, may misinterpret expressions or deeds—may classify his manifestations under false categories—may see irreverence in his playfulness, harshness in his fidelity, excess in his generosity; but you, “knowing” the heart thus severely criticized, can see veneration in its lightness, and from its every string can evoke the music of an unsuspecting and self-oblivious love. The illustration may be applied to the Saviour. He is the best interpreter of Christ who “knows” Christ best. The child, not the alien, can best expound the father’s utterances. Sympathy is the true exponent. The man who is out of sympathy with Christ will never excel as a commentator on the New Testament. Sympathy can remove difficulties before which a heartless criticism can only tremble.1 [Note: J. Parker, Hidden Springs, 340.]
To Know Christ
1. The knowledge that Paul sets his heart upon is not a bare historical knowledge of Christ. To know Christ is not to know what is taught about Him, or what He did; it is to have the spiritual experience of His personal presence with the soul; and knowing Christ is here expressed under the particulars of knowing the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. That power, therefore, has its sphere of operation in the most vital processes of spiritual life, and the resurrection of Christ is thus set in the most intimate relations with Christian experience.
It is one thing to stand on the shore and see the great waves and say, “There is a storm”; it is a very different thing to be out in the midst of those waves, tossed every way by them, fighting for your life. On the shore you know of them; in their midst you know them, you know their power. The first is information, the second is experience. Some men are content with knowing facts; other people will be content only with knowing powers. An unfelt fact is nothing at all to these last. There is no truth to them that does not take their nature and their lives into its hands and change them. Of this last class was Paul, who prayed that he might know the power of Christ’s resurrection.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Sermons for the Principal Festivals, 270.]
When some early navigators, of whom Herodotus tells us, coasted round Africa, and returned with the story that they had reached a region at which their shadows at noonday pointed toward the south, their report was treated as ludicrous by the inhabitants of the Mediterranean seaboard, and among them, by the great historian himself; since the constant experience of their own neighbourhood furnished them, as they thought, with ample reason for thinking that nothing of the kind was possible. When asserting the fact of the Resurrection, St. Paul planted his foot upon the rock of experience; he was proof against the seductions of the “idols” whether of the “den” or of the “cave.” He had no need to pray, as have many in our time, that he might be assured of the fact of Christ’s Resurrection. What he did pray for was that he might increasingly know its power.2 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Easter in St. Paul’s, 124.]
2. What Paul covets is a deep personal experimental knowledge of his Lord. His faith rested not on testimony, not even on his own vision at Damascus, except in so far as it was the outward and visible sign expressive of the inward manifestation to his inmost being. Otherwise the hour of depression might have robbed him of all. Testimonies might be false, the vision at Damascus an optical delusion of over-strained hours, and he would have been of all men most miserable; but by faith he could look into the unseen and put Christ there at any moment, and St. Paul had found Him and taken Him as the Master of his life, and as a result his whole life had been changed; and now his great desire is to know more of Christ.
Who knows a country best—the man who has passed through it with all the rapidity of modern locomotion, or the man who has spent years amid its hills and dales, its woods and rivers? Whose verdict on an individual character is most trustworthy—his who has had but a superficial acquaintance with the individual in question, or his who has seen that individual in all the mutations of poverty and wealth, grief and joy, disappointment and realization? Those inquiries admit of but one reply. So in relation to Christ: he who “knows” Christ can best explain His words, trust His promises, reveal His nature. In proportion as you “know” Christ, can you understand His most mysterious and His most awful utterances.1 [Note: J. Parker, Hidden Springs, 339.]
To Know the Power of Christ’s Resurrection
1. The expression “to know him, and the power of his resurrection,” does not mean to know Him, even the power of His resurrection; as if it were not He strictly that was known, but only the effects of certain things about Him that were felt, such as His resurrection. The meaning is rather the reverse, namely, to know Him in the power of His resurrection, to attain, through knowing the power of His resurrection, to a knowledge of Him, to be brought close to Him through all that He has done and all that has happened to Him, so as to know Himself.
As one comes on the diary of his dead mother and reads how she loved him, bore with him, prayed with him, suffered for him, the past is interpreted; she rises out of her grave in a new and deathless beauty. What was seen only in gleams and flickerings is known for a great fire of love that never ceased to burn. The heart discerned only through narrow chinks and apertures is revealed in its completeness; the sacred and pure image passes among the treasures of the soul.1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten-Minute Sermons, 120.]
2. What was Paul’s conception of the power of Christ’s resurrection? To Paul the resurrection was a new departure in the history of mankind. It gave him the ideal and the reality of a new man, not an earthy man, such as Adam was, before he fell, or even as Christ was upon the earth, but a heavenly and spiritual man.
It is only the spiritual man that can have perfect fellowship with God—“flesh and blood cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Now Christ on earth was not wholly a spiritual man. He had a body of flesh. But on His resurrection He became wholly spiritual; He assumed a spiritual body. Then He was wholly, in mind and body, the spiritual man, the new man—head of the new humanity, and the second Adam. Then, too, He was constituted Son of God in power by the resurrection from the dead. He was the new man, the Lord from heaven; and being elevated on high, was in a position as new man to put forth all His power to save men—His power, which was the power of His resurrection. And it is this power that the Apostle desires to know. Therefore, when he says the power of His resurrection, he means all the power which He now puts forth, and all the power which thinking of Him, as He now is, exerts on men’s minds.
The student of science tells us that all energy is convertible into kindred forms. Light, heat, electricity, sound, may perhaps be degrees of the same force which is addressing men in different ways, and through varied senses. More than one inventor asserts that he is able to change the rays of light which come from the sun into electrical energy. Life, suggests a popular writer, is built up of atoms which have the power to attract and repel each other, and death is such a loss of that power that their vibrancy ceases, and they fall inert into space. Whatever is seen, heard, tasted, felt, may be a modification of one original substance, for all forces are convertible, and chemical elements are being resolved into simpler elements. Whether this theory is correct or not, the forces which asserted themselves in Christ’s resurrection reappear in many forms in the life of His redeemed people. That resurrection transmutes itself into a power through which I am taken out of condemnation and brought into newness of life. It is the source from which I receive my baptism of spiritual power. In the deliverance from peril and death vouchsafed to the Church and its members, this sublime event of which the Apostles were the witnesses asserts itself anew. And in the last day the Lord’s own rising will prove itself the germinal movement in the resurrection of His servants.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Alienated Crown, 277.]
That so many thousands of human beings have assembled to worship our Lord and God beneath the dome of this Cathedral Church this Easter night, is a statistical fact which, if it were ascertained, would have no particular interest if it were not that linked to that fact is the idea of its vast, its complex, its humanly speaking unascertainable power. So many intelligences enlightened by the truth of Christ, so many hearts warmed by the love of Christ, so many wills braced by the grace of Christ, so many souls brought face to face with truth yet without spiritual benefit, and therefore most assuredly not without spiritual loss; this is the power of the fact before us, not the less certain because its precise measure cannot be taken, not the less interesting assuredly because its import reaches far beyond the present moment, far beyond the confines of time to the distinct horizons of eternity. And St. Paul’s meaning in the text is that, so far as he may, he would, in respect of a far more momentous fact, measure at least some departments of its power, make some progress in discoveries which as man he could never hope to exhaust.2 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Christ’s Conquest, 58.]
3. The resurrection was the crowning blow at sin, and carries with it a justifying power. If Christ be not risen, there has been no victory over sin and no annulment of the law; and there can be no evidence for the sinner that the death of Jesus stands in any such relation to his faith as that the righteousness of God, which is by faith, is become his; or that, even though he died with Christ, he has a new and spiritual life in the soul. Paul traversed precisely this road in his religious experience. Jesus appeared to him as risen and glorified. Then he knew that His death had not been that of a malefactor or of a pestilent deceiver, but was the one offering for sin which was adequate, and that Jesus whom he persecuted was his Lord and Saviour. Peter testifies to the same effect, when he tells us that, from the despair and sadness of the disciples at the crucifixion, and the disappointment of their hopes that followed, they were “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And the Jews, who could not receive the doctrine of a suffering Messiah, and to whom His ignominious death was an absolute bar to His claim, when they accepted Peter’s testimony that He had risen, again saw also in His death their atonement, and repented and were converted. We see the power of His resurrection for justification.
Several years ago, a picture exhibited in the Royal Academy was based upon the story that Oliver Cromwell, on the night following the execution of Charles the First, stole into the room at Whitehall to look upon the body of his former foe. The painting shows him in the act of drawing aside the sheet that had been cast over the dead king. Into the lines of that intent face the artist has skilfully combined inexorable firmness and a faint touch of pity: but there is no sign of scattering clouds. The features of the Protector seem to say: “Alas, poor king! it must needs be so. And perhaps the end is not yet.” Not quite sure is he that the scaffold will mark the end of the trouble. More heads may need to fall. The execution about which historians and jurists are still debating was looked upon as inevitable. No Cavalier could have read in those strongly-lined features licence for a new opposition to the rights of the Parliament. No friend of Charles could have read encouragement in the face that was looking upon the havoc of block and scaffold. But if the Protector could have undone the day, and have freed the captive of death, such an act might have been read into an assurance of peace. If a resurrection could have been brought to pass, that would have been a pledge of amnesty.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Alienated Crown, 281.]
Across the page, in the old archives of France, on which the taxes of the Department of Domremy should have been enumerated, was written the sentence of remission, “Free for the Maid’s sake.” It was there that Joan of Arc was born, the Maid who died for her country. God has His archives, where my sins should be commemorated and my penalty set down. His Son has blotted out, by love and death, the dark record. But I must be sure that He is risen, and that my holy Judge has accepted His substitution, before I can read the new writing on the page, “Forgiven and free for the Redeemer’s sake.”2 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, 359.]
4. The power that Paul has specially in view is a renewing and sanctifying power. Christ is not only a Redeemer from sin, but the author of a new life in them that believe. He so comes to men through their trust in Him, through their self-surrender and their clinging to Him as for their life, that He and they become identified in a most real and living union. He is the vine, they are the branches. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” If any man will identify himself in his inmost soul, in his will, in his affections, in his heart, with Jesus Christ, surrendering to Him the government of his life, he becomes thereby a new creature. For him old things are passed away, and all things become new. He is like a child born into a new world. He is alive from the dead; he is risen as Christ was raised. So close, indeed, is the identification that in their measure the mysteries of Christ’s earthly life are reproduced in the spiritual experience of the believer. He is crucified with Christ, with Christ he is buried, he is raised, he is set in the heavenly places, he walks in newness of life. He knows, in short, the power of the resurrection, which is just the power of the risen Christ Himself, that power by which He reproduces in all who surrender themselves to His love “the characteristic qualities of His own perfect manhood.”
When Christ rose from the dead, He was henceforth free from all the conflict, separated from all the struggle: the sacrifice was over, the victory won; and as the world had done its worst with Him, He had done with the world. When He rose, His home was in Heaven. And as we submit our spirits to the spirit of the risen and living Christ, He bears us away with Himself to the heaven of holiness and purities which is His home, consecrates us with Himself to all that is good, and holds us fast to it by His might. When we realize our Lord’s living power, and lose our natures in it, He Himself lives out the ideals of holiness within us. If only we could so realize His living power, and so lose ourselves in it, that His life might enfold ours utterly, and every movement of our life might be but the manifestation of His life through us, the purest and the best would be revealed in us. He Himself would reveal it in us, were we abandoned to Him. Union with the risen and living Christ brings us into goodness, because it brings the Christ, who lives in goodness, into us.1 [Note: H. W. Clark, Meanings and Methods of the Spiritual Life, 38.]
A great critic has said that David Cox was the first painter to put the wind into his trees. He made men see the movements of the air in the undulating branches, the upturned leaves, the swaying masses of foliage. Men should see the wind of the Spirit in my life, shaking off the dust and grime of sin, stirring me to what is highest and purest and tenderest, bending me before my unseen Lord, who does with me whatever He will. And it is from the throne to which He has risen that He imparts His Spirit to me, and that He communicates Himself.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, 359.]
I thought His love would weaken
As more and more He knew me;
But it burneth like a beacon,
And the light and heat go through me.
5. The resurrection has a subtle, pervading and diffusive power, exercised in great part unconsciously, affecting character in its very earliest stages, entering into the currents of thought, feeling, example, and influence in all Christian households, and, to a great extent, in every Christian community. In all growth space is an essential element. The kernel of wheat sown in a shallow vessel shoots up into a green blade, which withers and dies before it comes to flower. The acorn planted in a thick-set grove never exceeds the stature of a shrub. In like manner the soul shapes itself by the space in which it expects to grow. Bounded by the span of this earthly life, it is narrowed, dwarfed, belittled in every direction. It is conscious of small room and brief time for increase, and instinctively adapts itself to its mean and limited conditions. It strikes its tendrils into the ground, because it has no heaven towards which it can climb. It becomes sordid, because its future has in it nothing great, or lofty, or enduring. But the very child who is taught from his earliest years to believe himself immortal, though nothing may be farther from his distinct consciousness than living for immortality, yet has his infant being enlarged, exalted, strengthened by the thought. His aspirations transcend the measure of earthly possibility, nor are they checked by the fear or darkened by the shadow of death. His ideal of character takes on, without his knowing it, much of the heavenly element, and is immeasurably larger and higher than if he had never heard of a life to come.
I never go into the pulpit on Easter morning without being thrilled by the remembrance that all Western Christendom is exulting and triumphing in the resurrection of our Lord. In the presence of the Cross and the open Sepulchre all the differences which separate those who are conscious of having been redeemed through Christ are forgotten.1 [Note: Life of R. W. Dale, 329.]
Fellowship in Suffering
1. What does the Apostle mean by the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? He is speaking of his own sufferings and self-denials, endured for Christ’s Gospel, and he says that he counts them as the merest refuse if he can win Christ and know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death. He alludes here, not to union by faith with the death and sufferings of Christ, but to the making up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church. And in all active labour and personal self-denial which is to be endured in the great work, the power of His resurrection sustains and energizes and consecrates. Human life is become all sacred through this power; human nature glorified, because Christ was a man; the body honoured because of the resurrection; suffering consecrated, death vanquished, the soul made pure and loving, the grave a peaceful and holy resting-place—all by means of the working of this holy life, which is in all who believe.
No one can read St. Paul’s Epistles thoughtfully without seeing what a prominent thought was this one of union with Christ in His life and death and resurrection. One cannot but be struck with the way in which he takes it for granted, writing to the Colossians, that Christ’s resurrection was their resurrection, and that henceforward their life is changed; cannot fail to see how all his perils and sufferings and persecutions he accepted as a necessary corollary from the fact that he shared that Christlike life which could not be perfect without fellowship in Christ’s sufferings and death.2 [Note: A. L. Moore, From Advent to Advent, 144.]
When all went well with St. Paul and he felt his powers sufficient for the task he had in hand, he could not realize the presence of the unseen Partner of his labours. But when he was swept off his feet in some storm like that which overwhelmed him in Jerusalem when the mob tried to murder him, or when he had to face the Cæsar’s judgment seat, absolutely alone, without a single friend by him, then he felt an inrush of Divine Power which made him realize that the Lord was standing by him and strengthening him. Such an experience was worth a hundred tumults.1 [Note: Bishop G. H. S. Walpole, Vital Religion, 94.]
Charles Kingsley, speaking of some dark and awful days he had experienced, tells us that he challenged our Lord in such earnest prayer to fulfil His promise that he almost expected Him to appear visibly; but though He did not do this, He gave him a sufficient answer in the still small voice which brought peace to his soul.2 [Note: Bishop G. H. S. Walpole.]
2. How can we realize the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? We can meditate lovingly on His awful sufferings, till our deepest sympathies are aroused. And then, taking our own sufferings, we can unite them with His, and so get Him to share them with us. When St. Paul wished that he might suffer as His master suffered, doubtless it was because in partaking of Christ’s sufferings, he would get great good which could be got in no other way. And this for two reasons easily thought of. For one thing, the wise and good man knew that the very best, noblest, kindest, sweetest, that is in human nature or that can be got out of it, the most heavenly character and disposition, the things that make man or woman look but a very little lower than the angels, are brought out by sanctified sorrow, as never by anything else. And for another thing, he, who knew human nature so well, knew that there is nothing that draws so close together as the great tie of common suffering—suffering which people have with a patient mind endured together: and thus that there was something in the “fellowship of his sufferings” that would seem to unite him very nearly with his Lord, by the bond of a brotherly sympathy.
On the one hand, those who have keenest sympathy are those who look closest and pierce deepest and hold securest; and on the other, those who have so pierced and seen the melancholy deeps of things are filled with the most intense passion and gentleness of sympathy.3 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, iv. 257).]
Experience alone completely teaches; it is participation in a particular situation that brings true comprehension of it, and so gives the Divine capacity of sympathy. There is a universal priesthood of man apart from anything official, a Divine feeling for human infirmity, the glow of a heart that sorrows and joys because it loves. Nothing will teach this so powerfully as experience. The unerring appreciation of an event comes to the man who himself has felt the force of it. Experimental knowledge is of the lasting sort, and the sort which brings comprehension. The world is made kin by a touch of nature, and nature teaches with irresistible force by facts. Actual community of sorrow or of joy will dissolve all conventionalities, when nothing else could. The recognition of nature’s bond will then come in a flash, a gleam of intuition. It brings sympathy; and sympathy will unite men as no written bond could do, though it were attested and secured by every legal means. It is stronger than any deed of contract; for it is a compact written in flesh, and signed with blood.1 [Note: Hugh Black, Comfort, 130.]
3. To know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings must be to suffer as He suffered, and to have the same mind amidst suffering that He had; and while suffering, to remember that He also suffered, and thus, like the three children in the furnace, to feel beside us another like the Son of God. That is what Paul means in this passage. He refers principally to external sufferings, to persecutions and probable martyrdom which lay before him, and which at the last overtook him. In his trials he was knowing Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings; in his martyrdom he was made conformable unto His death. But, though not exactly in the same way, every Christian in his life partakes of the sufferings of Christ, and in dying is made conformable unto His death. We must go over again what Christ went through. It is given us not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer because of Him, having the same conflict which we saw in Him,—“to bear in our body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Water has no power to generate electrical energy as it lies in the still, tideless lake, the sluggish river which moves placidly through a flowered landscape, or in the dikes and canals of Holland, the land of tulips and dairy farms. The engineer puts his turbines and his dynamos where torrents come thundering through the frowning chasms and rushing out of the gloomy valleys. In the dim mountain defiles, and amidst the sheer precipices where giant waterfalls are at play, light awaits the call of science, which can change the midnight darkness of great empires into noonday. And the power of the resurrection, the glory of its unknown forces, its mystic possibilities are not always known in the quiet scenes of life and amidst its pastoral serenities. It was Paul’s tribulations that made luminous the force through which the shadows of death and the grave were dispelled. It is through stress and danger, through turmoil and conflict, that the glory of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead manifests itself afresh.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Alienated Crown, 291.]
4. And there is another step. To know the fellowship of His sufferings is to suffer for others as He did.
From early childhood we have known and appreciated the sweet German legend of the robin redbreast’s crimson feathers. The fable runs that, touched perhaps by that secret attraction which draws all that lives to the Maker of all life, the tiny bird lit upon the Cross of Calvary, and strove with all his force to withdraw one thorn from the crown that was tearing His sacred brow. When success rewarded his efforts, the gush of blood that followed crimsoned his breast, and, in recognition of his action, he was permitted to bear, ever in his body, the “marks of the Lord Jesus.” Absolutely certain is it that those who draw forth but one thorn from His brow, by faithfulness, submission, courage, perseverance, self-denial, sympathy, seeking and saving His lost, are lessening His burden, lengthening His arm, rejoicing His heart, sharing in the mystery of His Divine distress, and fulfilling the aspiration of the text, “That I may know him, and the fellowship of his sufferings.”2 [Note: B. Wilberforce, Following on to Know the Lord, 127.]
Blessed, thrice blessed, are ye to whom your Lord has fitted your cross, as He in His righteous but tender love saw best for you. Blessed are ye, if ye but learn your blessedness, whatever cross by nature or by the order of His government He has placed upon you. Ye will not seek high things on whom the lowly cross has been bestowed. But treasure it up for yourselves in your secret hearts, there is no form of it which is not healing—bury it deep there, it will heal you, first through His precious Spirit, and when it has healed you, will through you heal others. Only yield yourselves to His Fatherly hand who gave it to you, to do to you, in you, through you, His loving and gracious will. To be by suffering made meet for doing well, and to do well and suffer for it, and to suffer in order that we may do well, this is our calling: and if God finds in us thus any secret resemblance to the Son of Man, He may also lift us up towards heaven, and draw men unto us by suffering.1 [Note: E. B. Pusey.]
Yea, through the shadow of an Agony
Cometh Redemption—if we may but pass
In the same footprints where our Master went,
With Him beside us.
5. How far can one enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? St. Paul says, to the point of death—“becoming conformed unto his death.” The reference is not to the impending death of martyrdom, but to that daily dying unto self and the world which the Apostle exhibited in the heroic self-denials of his resplendent life. This is the climax of what he has said as to fellowship in Christ’s sufferings. The last and worst of our Lord’s sufferings were in His death. And in this too, St. Paul desired to be made like his Saviour. The plain meaning of his words is, that he would be thankful if, being supported through it all by his Lord’s presence and the Blessed Spirit, he were appointed to die by just such a cruel death as Christ died! But there is another conformity to our Redeemer’s death, which was not absent from His Apostle’s mind, and which is more like us. We are made conformable to Christ’s death when we die to sin, when we are “dead to sin.” And “if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” “Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And Paul had attained a real conformity to his Master’s death—which yet is within the reach of those whose hands will never be pierced by the nails, and whose limbs will never be stretched upon the Cross when he wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
When Christ let fall that sanguine shower
Amid the garden dew,
Oh, say what amaranthine flower
In that red rain upgrew?
If yet below the blossom grow,
Then earth is holy yet:
But if it bloom forgotten, woe
To those who dare forget!
No flower so healing and so sweet
Expands beneath the skies;
Unknown in Eden, there unmeet;
Its name? Self-sacrifice!
The very name we scarce can frame
And yet that flower’s dark root
The monsters of the wild might tame
And heaven is in its fruit.
Alas! what murmur spreads around?
The news thereof hath been:
But now no more the man is found
Whose eyes that flower have seen:
Then nobles all! leave court and hall,
And search the wide world o’er:
For whoso finds this Sancgreall,
Stands crowned for evermore.1 [Note: Aubrey de Vere.]
Attaining to the Resurrection
1. When he says, “If by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead,” St. Paul does not express doubt as to his actually attaining to it. What he expresses is wonder, and awe, and joy before the grandeur of such a prospect, and the feeling how alone such a joyful grandeur is to be reached, which is only through fellowship in the sufferings of Christ, and by being conformed unto His death. Perhaps we should think of it in this way. Christ, in that He died, died unto sin. His death was for sin, unto sin. But He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. When He died to sin, His connexion with sin was over. And He rose by virtue of His own native life. He could not be holden of death. His dying was, one might say, a special thing; it was unnatural. His rising was natural, it was a rebound; it was the life in Him asserting itself.
And so the believer, having died to sin, having in death put it away, rises in virtue of his new life. “The body, indeed, is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” Being conformed to Christ in death, we attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Sin is altogether put off, and the spirit of life asserts itself, and draws the body to itself.
2. It is an identification in will and in life. If Christ has so identified Himself with us as to make His life strictly, and in all aspects of it, a true representation of human life; if when I look on Christ I can say, “That is the ideal, the model of every true man’s life,” then it follows, undoubtedly, that whatever step Christ has taken, I shall be justified in feeling that that also belongs to my existence and is mine, as a follower of my Lord and Saviour. Or to put it in another light; if Christ, in His life here, has shown me the life I am to live—the life I shall live, as one of His disciples; and if then His resurrection is a necessary sequel to His life, my resurrection is, for the same reason, an equally necessary sequel to my life; the conclusion then assumes a moral certainty.
This is just how the Apostles all regarded it. They had so intense a feeling of the identity of life in Christ and in us—of the fact that Christ had been the true Man, living the true human life—of the fact that Christianity meant nothing less than entering into that life in every aspect and particular of it, that they would not have understood Christ’s being anything that they might not; that Christ having won and attained any good was a morally certain reason for their sharing the same. Moreover the resurrection of Christ was to them the sequel, the moral necessity, of His life. To have lived Christ’s life, and not to rise from death, appeared to them an impossibility.
Conceive a man’s dead body lying horizontally on the ground. Conceive that by some imparted power, the head of that body begins to move, to rise, to assume a perpendicular position, to raise itself on the earth, to mount, to ascend. It is clear that as the head does this, all the limbs, following its motions, necessarily do the same, in their proper order. They rise; they are upright; they mount; they soar. Just so it is with the rising Saviour. His people are drawn by Him, with an attraction stronger than all the laws and affinities of the material world. They are held to Him by fibres and strong cords, faster than the ligaments of our physical frame. And so, if you only be “in Christ” you are risen: you cannot choose but rise. It is in your unity with Christ. It is part of your identity with the Head in which you live. It is “the power of his resurrection.”1 [Note: James Vaughan, Sermons, ii. 7.]
The same flood of sunshine which frees the Rhone from its glacier-prison opens the bloom in the cleft of the rock that smiles like a babe just refreshed with sleep. And the same tide of power which unlocked the sealed tomb where Jesus lay opens the pitiless heart of the persecutor and brings the vernal tenderness of the evangel into the quiet life of Lydia. We are planted in the likeness of the resurrection, and the elemental correspondence which is to issue in glorified sonship must assert itself within us more and more.2 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Alienated Crown, 289.]
3. The resurrection is a present experience. We are so apt to think of the resurrection as a remote truth, to be realized in some distant future, when some day we shall die and live again, that the very idea of attaining to such a resurrection now is not easy to grasp. But here we have a resurrection which can be attained any day. “I have not already attained,” says St. Paul, “but I press on.” It is possible, that is to say, for a man to-day, who seems perfectly healthy, to be dying or dead, and for a man to rise from the dead to-day and attain to the resurrection.
The process is now going on. The spiritual body is silently being formed in the depths of our present inner existence. The thoughts, words, and deeds of the present are all mysteriously contributing to its future manifestation and development. That clothing upon, as the Apostle speaks of the completion of the future body, is now being prepared for; it will be beheld and realized when, as the same Apostle says, we shall “all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ.” That final investiture of all souls according to the deeds done in the body is indisputably reserved for that last great day when, not man only, but the whole waiting creation, will be sharers in the long promised restitution. The completion will be then, but the process within each one of us is going on now. Each day, perhaps, adds some lineament; each deed some real, though unperceived, impress; each habit some trace and configuration. Often are we permitted to trace even in the mortal and the perishable the holy outlines of that spiritual body which will be the wedding garment of the soul when the Lord returns again to His own, and all things become known. Do we not sometimes even in this life see faces in which we seem to ourselves to behold the light, as it were, of another world; brows on which the very peace of God seems gently to rest; eyes, with their indefinable far-off look, which seem to be beholding Him who is invisible? And, as we see this, do we not sometimes feel a vague consciousness that we are looking on what will be hereafter, and are merely catching glimpses of the power of the Lord’s resurrection revealing itself behind the veil of the mortal and the perishable?
Our life is like the life of a tree, which is always full of immediate apparent failure, which is always dropping back after each rich summer to the same bareness that it had last winter, which keeps no leaves or fruit, and stands again and again stripped of every sign of life that it has put forth, and which yet has gathered, as we see when we watch it with a larger eye—has gathered all those apparent failures into the success of one long, continuous growth; has not lost the strength of those old summers, but gathered them into its own enlarged girth and sturdier strength. What seemed to perish and die has really been only grown in, and makes the mature life of, the noble tree. And so it is with our hopes and plans and endeavours and resolutions and thoughts, which seem to fade and perish, but which, if we have the Christian vitality about us, have been really grown in and make the new life, which is not merely a thing of the future but a thing of the present.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Sermons for the Principal Festivals, 277.]
4. The full consummation is in the future. It is plain enough that if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in us there is no term to its operations until our mortal bodies also are quickened by His Spirit that dwelleth in us. The ethical and spiritual resurrection in the present life finds its completion in the bodily resurrection in the future. It cannot be that the transformation wrought in a human life shall be complete until it has flowed outwards into and permeated the whole of manhood, body, soul, and spirit. The three measures of meal have each to be influenced before “the whole is leavened.” If we duly consider the elements necessary to a perfect realization of the Divine ideal of humanity, we shall discern that redemption must have a gospel to bring to the body as well as to the spirit. Whatever has been devastated by sin must be healed by Jesus. It is not necessary to suppose that the body which dies is the body which rises again; rather the Apostle’s far-reaching series of antitheses between that which is sown and that which is raised leads us to think that the natural body, which has passed through corruption, and the particles of which have been gathered into many different combinations, does not become the spiritual body. The person who dies is the person who lives through death, and who assumes the body of the resurrection; and it is a person, not the elements which make up the personality, who is spoken of as risen from the dead. The vesture may be different, but the wearer is the same.
We shall have known by anticipation some of the phantoms that haunt the dark valley of the shadow of death, and perhaps seen also in the experience of others that He is always there; seen, perhaps, what Archbishop Benson saw when he sat by the bedside of his dying son. “That he saw Christ,” is the Archbishop’s witness, “we who watched him are as certain as of anything we know at all.” The dark paths and deep valleys are not wholly strange, and as we enter them it is with the sense of wonder that accompanied Charles Kingsley’s descent: “I wonder what it will be like!” i.e., what will it be like at the other end, when, having left our friends here, He takes us by the hand, round that bend of the path hidden from the living, which none but those He guides have ever seen, that turn where He reveals Himself in His full glory, and we at last know what it is “to know the Lord”?1 [Note: G. H. S. Walpole, Vital Religion, 100.]
The grave is only the moat around the inner castle of the King, across which they who have long been His loving and loyal retainers on the farther side enter it, sure of a welcome to the heart of His hospitality. Far above any morbid or affected, unnatural, unhuman pretence of a wish for death there towers this calm Christian confidence, ready to die, yet glad to stay here until the time comes; knowing that death will be release, and yet finding life happy and rich with the power of the resurrection already present in it; counting both worlds God’s worlds, and so neither despising this nor dreading the other. That is the Christian light on the dark river and the fields beyond, that streams forth only from the opened door of Jesus’ tomb.2 [Note: Phillips Brooks, Sermons for the Principal Festivals, 279.]
“What think you, father—is death very sore?”
“My boy,” the father answered, “we will try
To make it easy with the present God.
But, as I judge, though more by hope than sight,
It seems much harder to the lookers on
Than to the man who dies. Each panting breath
We call a gasp, may be in him the cry
Of infant eagerness; or, at worst, the sob
With which the unclothed spirit, step by step,
Wades forth into the cool eternal sea.
I think, my boy, death has two sides to it—
One sunny, and one dark—as this round earth
Is every day half sunny and half dark.
We on the dark side call the mystery death;
They on the other, looking down in light,
Wait the glad birth, with other tears than ours.”1 [Note: George MacDonald, “A Hidden Life.”]
The Power of His Resurrection
Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, iii. 187.
Bainbridge-Bell (W.), Repentance and Perseverance, 71, 87, 100, 112, 124.
Baring-Gould (S.), The Mystery of Suffering, 97.
Brooks (P.), Sermons for the Principal Festivals, 269.
Clark (H. W.), Meanings and Methods of the Spiritual Life, 27.
Davidson (A. B.), Waiting upon God, 277.
Davies (J. A.), in Sermons by Welshmen in English Pulpits, 306.
Dix (M.), Christ at the Door of the Heart, 144.
Dyke (H. van), Manhood, Faith, and Courage, 73.
Ellicott (C. J.), Sermons at Gloucester, 120.
Fairweather (D.), Bound in the Spirit, 67.
Gibson (J. G.), Stepping-Stones to Life, 188.
Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 260.
Hull (E. L.), Sermons, 1st Ser., 28.
Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 122.
Moore (A. L.), From Advent to Advent, 140.
Peabody (A. P.), King’s Chapel Sermons, 305.
Selby (T. G.), The Alienated Crown, 275.
Stowell (H.), Sermons, 309.
Talbot (E.), Sermons Preached in the Leeds Parish Church, 187.
Walpole (G. H. S.), Vital Religion, 89.
Wilberforce (B.), Following on to Know the Lord, 115.
Christian World Pulpit, viii. 373 (Brown); lxxiii. 285 (Robinson).
Church of England Pulpit, xxviii. 246 (Field); lix. 26 (Crawford); lxiii. 283 (Robinson).