If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God--COLOSSIANS iii. 1.
I know no better way of preaching to you the gospel of Easter, the good news which this day brings to all men, year after year, than by trying to explain to you the Epistle appointed for this day, which we have just read.
It begins, "If ye then be risen with Christ." Now that does not mean that St. Paul had any doubt whether the Colossians, to whom he was speaking, were risen with Christ or not. He does not mean, "I am not sure whether you are risen or not; but perhaps you are not; but if you are, you ought to do such and such things." He does not mean that. He was quite sure that these Colossians were risen with Christ. He had no doubt of it whatsoever. If you look at the chapter before, he says so. He tells them that they were buried with Christ in baptism, in which also they were risen with Christ, through faith of the operation of God, who has raised Him from the dead.
Now what reason had St. Paul to believe that these Colossians were risen with Jesus Christ? Because they had given up sin and were leading holy lives? That cannot be. The Epistle for this day says the very opposite. It does not say, "You are risen, because you have left off sinning." It says, "You must leave off sinning, because you are risen." Was it then on account of any experiences, or inward feeling of theirs? Not at all. He says that these Colossians had been baptized, and that they had believed in God's work of raising Jesus Christ from the dead, and that therefore they were risen with Christ. In one word, they had believed the message of Easter-day, and therefore they shared in the blessings of Easter-day; as it is written in another place, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in thy heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
Now these seem very wide words, too wide to please most people. But there are wider words still in St. Paul's epistles. He tells us again and again that God's mercy is a free gift; that He has made to us a free present of His Son Jesus Christ. That He has taken away the effect of all men's sin, and more than that, that men are God's children; that they have a right to believe that they are so, because they are so. For, He says, the free gift of Jesus Christ is not like Adam's offence. It is not less than it, narrower than it, as some folks say. It is not that by Adam's sin all became sinners, and by Jesus Christ's salvation an elect few out of them shall be made righteous. If you will think a moment, you will see that it cannot be so. For Jesus Christ conquered sin and death and the devil. But if, as some think, sin and death and the devil have destroyed and sent to hell by far the greater part of mankind, then they have conquered Christ, and not Christ them. Mankind belonged to Christ at first. Sin and death and the devil came in and ruined them, and then Christ came to redeem them; but if all that He has been able to do is to redeem one out of a thousand, or even nine out of ten, of them, then the devil has had the best of the battle. He, and not Christ, is the conqueror. If a thief steals all the sheep on your farm, and all that you can get back from him is a part of the whole flock, which has had the best of it, you or the thief? If Christ's redemption is meant for only a few, or even a great many elect souls out of all the millions of mankind, which has had the best of it, Christ, the master of the sheep, or the devil, the robber and destroyer of them? Be sure, my friends, Christ is stronger than that; His love is deeper than that; His redemption is wider than that. How strong, how deep, how wide it is, we never shall know. St. Paul tells us that we never shall know, for it is boundless; but that we shall go on knowing more and more of its vastness for ever, finding it deeper, wider, loftier than our most glorious dreams could ever picture it. But this, he says, we do know, that we have gained more than Adam lost. For if by one man's offence many were made sinners, much more shall they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life by one even Jesus Christ. For, he says, where sin abounded, God's grace and free gift has much more abounded. Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men to justification of life. Upon all men, you see. There can be no doubt about it. Upon you and me, and foreigners, and gipsies, and heathens, and thieves, and harlots--upon all mankind, let them be as bad or as good, as young or as old, as they may, the free gift of God has come to justification of life; they are justified, pardoned, and beloved in the sight of Almighty God; they have a right and a share to a new life; a different sort of life from what they are inclined to lead, and do lead, by nature--to a life which death cannot take away, a life which may grow, and strengthen, and widen, and blossom, and bear fruit for ever and ever. They have a share in Christ's resurrection, in the blessing of Easter-day. They have a share in Christ, every one of them whether they claim that share or not. How far they will be punished for not claiming it, is a very different matter, of which we know nothing whatsoever. And how far the heathen who have never heard of Christ, or of their share in Him, will be punished, we know not--we are not meant to know. But we know that to their own Master they stand or fall, and that their Master is our Master too, and that He is a just Master, and requires little of him to whom He gives little; a just and merciful Master, who loved this sinful world enough to come down and die for it, while mankind were all rebels and sinners, and has gone on taking care of it, and improving it, in spite of all its sin and rebellion ever since, and that is enough for us.
St. Paul knew no more. It was a mystery, he says, a wonderful and unfathomable matter, which had been hidden since the foundation of the world, of which he himself says that he saw only through a glass darkly; and we cannot expect to have clearer eyes than he. But this he seems to have seen, that the Lord, when He rose again, bought a blessing even for the dumb beasts and the earth on which we live. For he says, the whole creation is now groaning in the pangs of labour, being about to bring forth something; and the whole creation will rise again; how, and when, and into what new state, we cannot tell. But St. Paul seems to say that when the Lord shall destroy death, the last of his enemies, then the whole creation shall be renewed, and bring forth another earth, nobler and more beautiful than this one, free from death, and sin, and sorrow, and redeemed into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
But this, on the other hand, St. Paul did see most clearly, and preached it to all to whom he spoke, that the ground and reason of this great and glorious mystery was the thing which happened on the first Easter-day, namely, the Lord Jesus rising from the dead. About that, at least, there was no doubt at all in his mind. We may see it by the Easter anthem, which we read this morning, taken out of the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians:
"Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
Now he is not talking here merely of the rising again of our bodies at the last day. That was in his mind only the end, and outcome, and fruit, and perfecting, of men's rising from the dead in this life. For he tells these same Corinthians, and the Colossians, and others to whom he wrote, that life, the eternal life which would raise their bodies at the last day, was even then working in them.
Neither is he speaking only of a few believers. He says that, owing to the Lord's rising on this day, all shall be made alive--not merely all Christians, but all men. For he does not say, as in Adam all Christians die, but all men; and so he does not say, all Christians shall be made alive, but all men. For here, as in the sixth chapter of Romans, he is trying to make us understand the likeness between Adam and Jesus Christ, whom he calls the new Adam. The first Adam, he says, was only a living soul, as the savages and heathens are; but the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, the true pattern of men, is a quickening, life-giving spirit, to give eternal life to every human being who will accept His offer, and claim his share and right as a true man, after the likeness of the new Adam, Jesus Christ.
We then, every one of us who is here to-day, have a right to believe that we have a share in Christ's eternal life: that our original sin, that is, the sinfulness which we inherited from our forefathers, is all forgiven and forgotten, and that mankind is now redeemed, and belongs to the second Adam, the true and original head and pattern of man, Jesus Christ, in whom was no sin; and that because mankind belongs to him, God is well pleased with them, and reconciled to them, and looks on them not as a guilty, but as a pardoned and beloved race of beings.
And we have a right to believe also, that because all power is given to Christ in heaven and earth, there is given to Him the power of making men what they ought to be--like His own blessed, and glorious, and perfect self. Ask him, and you shall receive; knock at the gate of His treasure-house, and it shall be opened. Seek those things that are above, and you shall find them. You shall find old bad habits die out in you, new good habits spring up in you; old meannesses become weaker, new nobleness and manfulness become stronger; the old, selfish, covetous, savage, cunning, cowardly, brutal Adam dying out, the new, loving, brotherly, civilised, wise, brave, manful Adam growing up in you, day by day, to perfection, till you are changed from grace to grace, and glory to glory into the likeness of the Lord of men.
"These are great promises," you may say, "glorious promises; but what proof have you that they belong to us? They sound too good to be true; too great for such poor creatures as we are; give us but some proof that we have a right to them; give us but a pledge from Jesus Christ; give us but a sign, an assurance from God, and we may believe you then."
My friends, I am certain--and the longer I live I am the more certain--that there is no argument, no pledge, no sign, no assurance, like the bread and the wine upon that table. Assurances in our own hearts and souls are good, but we may be mistaken about them; for, after all, they are our own thoughts, notions in our own souls, these inward experiences and assurances; delightful and comforting as they are at times, yet we cannot trust them--we cannot trust our own hearts, they are deceitful above all things, who can know them? Yes: our own hearts may tell us lies; they may make us fancy that we are pleasing God, when we are doing the things most hateful to Him. They have made thousands fancy so already. They may make us fancy we are right in God's sight, when we are utterly wrong. They have made thousands fancy so already. These hearts of ours may make us fancy that we have spiritual life in us; that we are in a state higher and nobler than the sinners round us, when all the while our spirits are dead within us. They made the Pharisees of old fancy that their souls were alive, and pure, and religious, when they were dead and damned within them; and they may make us fancy so too. No: we cannot trust our hearts and inward feelings; but that bread, that wine, we can trust. Our inward feelings are a sign from man; that bread and wine are a sign from God. Our inward feelings may tell us what we feel toward God: that bread, that wine, tell us something ten thousand times more important; they tell us what God feels towards us. And God must love us before we can love Him; God must pardon us before we can have mercy on ourselves; God must come to us, and take hold of us, before we can cling to Him; God must change us, before we can become right; God must give us eternal life in our hearts before we can feel and enjoy that new life in us. Then that bread, that wine, say that God has done all that for us already; they say: "God does love you; God has pardoned you; God has come to you; God is ready and willing to change and convert you; God has given you eternal life; and this love, this mercy, this coming to find you out while you are wandering in sin, this change, this eternal life, are all in His Son Jesus Christ; and that bread, that wine, are the signs of it. It is for the sake of Jesus' blood that God has pardoned you, and that cup is the new covenant in His blood. Come and drink, and claim your pardon. It is simply because Jesus Christ was man, and you, too, are men and women, wearing the flesh and blood which Christ wore; eating and drinking as Christ ate and drank, and not for any works or faith of your own, that God loves you, and has come to you, and called you into His family. This is the Gospel, the good news of Christ's free grace, and pardon, and salvation; and that bread, that wine, the common food of all men, not merely of the rich, or the wise, or the pious, but of saints and penitents, rich and poor. Christians and heathens, alike--that plain, common, every-day bread and wine--are the signs of it. Come and take the signs, and claim your share in God's love, in God's family. And it is in Jesus Christ, too, that you have eternal life. It is because you belong to Jesus Christ, to mankind, of which He is the head and king, that God will change you, strengthen your soul to rise above your sins, raise you up daily more and more out of spiritual death, out of brutishness, and selfishness, and ignorance, and malice, into an eternal life of wisdom, and love, and courage, and mercifulness, and patience, and obedience; a life which shall continue through death, and beyond death, and raise you up again for ever at the last day, because you belong to Christ's body, and have been fed with Christ's eternal life. And that bread, that wine are the signs of it. "Take, eat," said Jesus, "this is my body; drink, this is my blood." Those are the signs that God has given you eternal life, and that this life is in His Son. What better sign would you have? There is no mistaking their message; they can tell you no lies. And they can, and will, bring your own Gospel-blessings to your mind, as nothing else can. They will make you feel, as nothing else can, that you are the beloved children of God, heirs of all that your King and Head has bought for you, when He died, and rose again upon this day. He gave you the Lord's Supper for a sign. Do you think that He did not know best what the best sign would be? He said: "Do this in remembrance of me." Do you think that He did not know better than you, and me, and all men, that if you did do it, it would put you in remembrance of Him?
Oh! come to His table, this day of all days in the year; and claim there your share in His body and His blood, to feed the everlasting life in you; which, though you see it not now, though you feel it not now, will surely, if you keep it alive in you by daily faith, and daily repentance, and daily prayer, and daily obedience, raise you up, body and soul, to reign with Him for ever at the last day.