We are assembled here to-day, my friends, to celebrate the joyful memory of our blessed Saviour's Resurrection. All Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night, His body lay in the grave; His soul was--where we cannot tell. St. Peter tells us that He went and preached to the spirits in prison--the sinners of the old world, who are kept in the place of departed souls--most likely in the depths of the earth, in the great fire-kingdom, which boils and flames miles below our feet, and breaks out here and there through the earth's solid crust in burning mountains and streams of fire. There some say--and the Bible seems to say--sinful souls are kept in chains until the judgment-day; and thither they say Christ went to preach--no doubt to save some of those sinful souls who had never heard of Him. However this may be, for those two nights and day there was no sign, no stir in the grave where Christ was laid. His body seemed dead--the stone lay still over the mouth of the tomb where Joseph and Nicodemus laid him; the seal which Pilate had put on it was unbroken; the soldiers watched and watched, but no one stirred; the priests and Pharisees were keeping their sham Passover, thinking, no doubt, that they were well rid of Christ and of His rebukes for ever.
But early on the Sunday morn--this day, as it might be--in the grey dawn of morning there came a change--a wondrous change. There was a great earthquake; the solid ground and rocks were stirred--the angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it, waiting for the King of glory to arise from His slumber, and go forth the conqueror of Death.
His countenance was like lightning, and His raiment white as snow; and for fear of Him those fierce, hard soldiers, who feared neither God nor man, shook, and became as dead men. And Christ arose and went forth. How he rose--how he looked when he arose, no man can tell, for no man saw. Only before the sun was risen came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, and found the stone rolled away, and saw the angels sitting, clothed in white, who said, "Fear not, for I know that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for He is risen. Come, see the place where the Lord lay."
What must they have thought, poor, faithful souls, who came, lonely and broken-hearted, to see the place where HE, their only hope, was, as they thought, shut up and lost for ever, to hear that He was risen and gone? Half terrified, half delighted, they went back with other women who had come on the same errand, with spices to anoint the blessed body, and told the apostles. Peter and John ran to the sepulchre, and saw the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about his blessed head, wrapped together by itself. They then believed. Then first broke on them the meaning of His old saying, that He must rise from the dead; and so, wondering and doubting what to do, they went back home.
But Mary--faithful, humble Mary--stood without, by the sepulchre, weeping. The angels called to her, "Woman, why weepest thou?" "They have taken away my Lord," said she; "and I know not where they have laid him."
Then, in a moment, out of the air, He appeared behind her. His body had been changed; it was now a glorified, spiritual body, which could appear and disappear when and how he liked. She turned back, and saw Him standing, but she knew Him not. A wondrous change had come over Him since last she saw Him hanging, bleeding, pale, and dying, on the cross of shame. "Woman," said He, "why weepest thou?" She, fancying it was the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." At the sound of that beloved voice--His own voice--calling by her name, her recollection came back to her. She knew Him--knew Him for her risen Lord; and, falling at His feet, cried out, "My Master!"
So Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead!
Now come the questions, WHY did Christ rise from the dead?--and HOW did he rise? And, first, I will say a few words about how he rose from the dead. And this the Bible will answer for us, as it will every thing else about the spirit-world. Christ, says the Bible, was put to death in the flesh; but quickened, that is, brought to life, by the Spirit. Now what is the Spirit but the Lord and Giver of Life,--life of all sorts--life to the soul--life to the body-- life to the trees and plants around us? With that Spirit Christ is filled infinitely without measure; it is HIS Spirit. He is the Prince of Life; and the Spirit which gives life is His Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son. THEREFORE the gates of hell could not prevail against Him--THEREFORE the heavy grave-stone could not hold Him down--THEREFORE His flesh could not see corruption and decay as other bodies do; not because His body was different from other bodies in its substance, but because HE was filled, body and soul, with the great Spirit of Life. For this is the great business of the Spirit of God, in all nature, to bring life out of death--new generations out of old. What says David? "When Thou, O God, turnest away Thy face, things die and return again to the dust; when Thou lettest Thy breath (which is the same as Thy spirit) go forth, they are made, and Thou renewest the face of the earth." This is the way that seeds, instead of rotting and perishing, spring up and become new plants--God breathes His spirit on them. The seeds must have heat, and damp, and darkness, and electricity, before they can sprout; but the heat, and damp, and darkness, do not make them sprout; they want something more to do that. A philosopher can find out exactly what a seed is made of, and he might make a seed of the proper materials, and put it in the ground, and electrify it--but would it grow? Not it. To grow it must have life--life from the fountain of life--from God's Spirit. All the philosophers in the world have never yet been able, among all the things which they have made, to make a single living thing--and say they never shall; because, put together all they will, still one thing is wanting-- LIFE, which God alone can give. Why do I say this? To shew you what God's Spirit is; to put you in mind that it is near you, above you, and beneath you, about your path in your daily walk. And also, to explain to you how Christ rose by that Spirit,--how your bodies, if you claim your share in Christ's Spirit, may rise by it too.
You can see now, how Christ, being filled with God's Spirit, rose of Himself. People had risen from the dead before Christ's time, but they had been either raised in answer to the prayers of holy men who had God's Spirit, or at some peculiar time when heaven was opened, and God chose to alter His laws (as we call it) for a moment.
But here was a Man who rose of Himself. He was raised by God, and therefore He raised Himself, for He was God.
You all know what life and power a man's own spirit will often give him. You may have heard of "spirited" men in great danger, or "spirited" soldiers in battle; when faint, wounded, having suffered enough, apparently, to kill them twice over, still struggling or fighting on, and doing the most desperate deeds to the last, from the strength and courage of their spirits conquering pain and weakness, and keeping off, for a time, death itself. We all know how madmen, diseased in their spirits, will, when the fit is on them, have, for a few minutes, ten men's strength. Well, just think, if a man's own spirit, when it is powerful, can give his body such life and force, what must it have been with Christ, who was filled full of THE Spirit--God's Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. The Lord could not HELP rising. All the disease, and poison, and rottenness in the world, could not have made His body decay; mountains on mountains could not have kept it down. His body!--the Prince of Life!--He that was the life itself! It was impossible that death could hold Him.
And does not this shew us WHY He rose, that we might rise with Him? What did He say about His own death? "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit." He was the grain which fell into the ground and died, and from His dead body sprung up another body--His glorified body; and we His Church, His people, fed with that body--His members, however strange it may sound--St. Paul said it, and therefore I dare to say it, little as I know what it means--members of His flesh and of His bones.
But think! Remember what St. Paul tells you about this very matter in that glorious chapter which is read in the burial-service, "how when thou sowest seed, thou sowest not that body which it will have, but bare grain; but God gives it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed its own body." For the wheat-plant is in reality the same thing as the wheat-seed, and its life the same life, different as the outside of it may look. Dig it up just at this time of year, and you will find the seed-corn all gone, sucked dry; the life of the wheat-seed has formed it into a wheat-plant--yet it is the same individual thing. The substance of the seed has gone into the root and the young blade; but it is the same individual substance. You know it is, and though you cannot tell why, yet you say "What a fine plant that seed has grown into," because you feel it is so, that the seed is the very same thing as the plant which springs up from it, though its shape is changed, and its size, and its colour, and the very stuff of which it was made is changed, since it was a mere seed. And yet it is at bottom the same individual thing as the seed was, with a new body and shape.
So with Christ's body. It was changed after He rose. It had gone through pain, and weakness, and death, gone down to the lowest depth of them, and conquered them, and passed triumphant through them and far beyond their power. His body was now a nobler, a more beautiful, a glorified body, a spiritual body, one which could do whatever His Spirit chose to make it do, one which could never die again, one which could come through closed doors, appear and vanish as He liked, instead of being bound to walk the earth, and stand cold and heat, sickness and weariness.
Yet it was the very same body, just as the wheat-plant is the same as the wheat-seed--the very same body. Every one knew His face again after His resurrection. There was the very print of the nails to be seen in His hands and feet, the spear-wound in His blessed side. So shall it be with us, my friends. We shall rise again, and we shall be the same as we are now, and yet not the same; our bodies shall be the same bodies, and yet nobler, purer, spiritual bodies, which can know neither death, nor pain, nor weariness. Then, never care, my friends, if we drop like ripe grain into the bosom of mother earth,--if we are to spring up again as seedling plants, after death's long winter, on the resurrection morn. Truly says the poet, how
"Mother earth, she gathers all Into her bosom, great and small: Oh could we look into her face, We should not shrink from her embrace."
No, indeed! for if we look steadily with the wise, searching eye of faith into the face of mother earth, we shall see how death is but the gate of life, and this narrow churchyard, with its corpses close-packed underneath the sod, would not seem to us a frightful charnel-house of corruption. No! it would seem like what it is--a blessed, quiet, seed-filled God's garden, in which our forefathers, after their long-life labour, lay sown by God's friendly hand, waiting peaceful, one and all, to spring up into leaf, and flower, and everlasting paradise-fruit, beneath the breath of God's Spirit at the last great day, when the Sun of Righteousness arises in glory, and the summer begins which shall never end.
One and all, did I say? Alas! would God it were so! We cannot hope as for all, but they are dead and gone, and we are not here to judge the dead. They have another Judge, and all shall be as He wills.
But we--we in whose limbs the breath of life still boils--we who can still work, let us never forget all grain ripens not. There is some falls out of the ear unripe, and perishes; some is picked out by birds; some withers and decays in the ear, and yet gets into the barn with it, and is sown too with the wheat, of which I never heard that any sprang up again--ploughed up again it may be--a withered, dead husk of chaff as it died, ploughed up to the resurrection of damnation to burn as chaff in unquenchable fire; but the good seed alone, ripe, and safe with the wheat-plant till it is ripe, that only will SPRING UP to the resurrection of eternal life.
Now, consider again that parable of the wheat-plant. After it has sprung up, what does it next, but TILLER?--and every new shoot that tillers out bears its own ear, ripens its own grain, twenty, thirty, or forty stems, and yet they are all the same plant, living with the life of that one original seed. So with Christ's Church--His body the Church. As soon as he rose, that new plant began to tiller. He did not keep His Spirit to Himself, but poured it out on the apostles, and from them it spread and spread--Each generation of Christians ripening, and bearing fruit, and dying, a fresh generation of fruit springing up from them, and so on, as we are now at this day. And yet all these plants, these millions and millions of Christian men and women, who have lived since Christ's blessed resurrection, all are parts of that one original seed, the body of Christ, whose members they are, and all owe their life to that one spirit of Christ, which is in them all and through them all, as the life of the original grain is in the whole crop which springs from it.
And what can you learn from this? Learn this, that in Christ you are safe, out of Christ you are lost. But REALLY in Christ, I mean-- not like the dead and dying grains, mildewed and worm-eaten, which you find here and there on the finest wheat-plant. Their end is to be burned, and so will ours be, for all our springing out of Christ's root, if the angel reapers find us not good wheat, but chaff and mildew. Every branch in Christ which beareth not fruit, His heavenly Father taketh away. Therefore, never pride yourself on having been baptised into Christ, never pride yourself on shewing some signs of God's Spirit, on being really good, right in this and right in that,--the question is, not so much, Are you IN CHRIST at all, are you part of His tree, a member of His body? but, Are you ripening there? If you are not ripening, you are decaying, and your end will be as God has said. And do you wish to know whether you are in Christ, safe, ripening? see whether you are like Him. If the young grain does not shew like the seed grain, you may be sure it is making no progress; and as surely as a wheat-plant never brought forth rye, or a grape-tree thistles, so surely, if you are not like Christ in your character, in patience, in meekness, in courage, truth, purity, piety, and love, you may be of His planting, but you are none of His ripening, and you will not be raised with Him at the last day, to flower anew in the gardens of Paradise, world without end.