The opening verses of the second chapter of the Second Epistle to Timothy are in essence a comprehensive exhortation to faithfulness. The apostle Paul was lying imprisoned at Rome, with expectation of no other issue than death. The infant Church had fallen upon perilous times. False teachers were assailing the very essence of the Gospel. Defection had invaded the innermost circle of the apostle's companions. Treachery had attacked his own person. Over against all these dreadful manifestations of impending destruction, he strenuously exhorts his own son in faith, Timothy, to steadfast faithfulness. Faithfulness to himself, faithfulness to the cause he had at heart, faithfulness to the truth as he preached it, faithfulness to Jesus Christ, their common Redeemer and Lord.
The temptations to unfaithfulness by which Timothy was assailed were very numerous and very specious. Many good men had fallen and were falling victims to them. The perverted teachings of the errorists of the day were urged with a great show of learning and with eminent plausibility. And they were announced with a fine scorn which openly declared that only dull wits could rest in the crude ideas with which Paul had faced the world-and lost. The sword of persecution had been ruthlessly unsheathed, and sufferings and a cruel death watched in the way of those who would fain walk in the path Paul had broken out. It seemed as if the whole fabric which the apostle had built up at such cost of labor and pain was about to fall about his ears.
Paul does not for a moment, however, lose courage, either for himself, or for his faithful followers. But neither does he seek to involve Timothy unwittingly in the difficulties and dangers in which he found himself. He rather bids him first of all to count the whole cost. And then he points him to a source of strength which will supply all his needs. We called the passage an exhortation. We might better call it, more specifically, an encouragement. And the encouragement culminates in a very remarkable sentence. This sentence is pregnant enough to reveal at once the central thought of Paul's Gospel and the citadel of his own strength. Amid all the surrounding temptations, all the encompassing dangers, Paul bids Timothy to bear in mind, as the sufficing source of abounding strength, the great central doctrine, - or rather, let us say, the great central fact-of his preaching, of his faith, of his life. And he enunciates this great fact, in these words: Jesus Christ raised from the dead, of the seed of David.
It is, of course, to the glorified Jesus that Paul directs his own and Timothy's gaze. Or, to be more specific, it is to the regal lordship of the resurrected Jesus that he points as the Christian's strength and support. The language is compressed to the extremity of conciseness. It is difficult to convey its full force except in diluted paraphrase. Paul bids Timothy in the midst of all the besetting perplexities and dangers which encompassed him to strengthen his heart by bearing constantly in remembrance, not Jesus Christ simpliciter, but Jesus Christ conceived specifically as the Lord of the Universe, who has been dead, but now lives again and abides for ever in the power of an endless life; as the royal seed of David ascended in triumph to His eternal throne. It is not from the exaltation of Jesus alone, let us observe, that Paul draws and would have Timothy draw strength to endure in the crisis which had fallen upon their lives. It is to the contrast between the past humiliation and the present glory of the exalted Lord that he directs his eyes. He does not say simply, "Bear in mind that Jesus Christ sits on the throne of the universe and all things are under His feet," although, of course, it is the universal dominion of Jesus which gives its force to the exhortation. He says, "Bear in mind that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, of the seed of David-that it is He that died who, raised from the dead, sits as eternal king in the heavens." No doubt a part of the apostle's object in his allusion to the past humiliation of the exalted Lord is to constitute a connection between Jesus Christ and his faithful followers, that they may become imitators of Him. They, the viatores, may see in Him, the consummator, one who like them had Himself been viator, and may be excited to follow after Him that they too may in due time become consummatores. But the nerve of the exhortation, obviously, does not lie in this, as the very language in which it is couched sufficiently avouches. How could Timothy imitate our Lord in being of the seed of David? How could he imitate Him by ascending the throne of the universe? Fundamentally the apostle is pointing to Christ not as our example, but as our almighty Savior. He means to adduce the great things about Him. And the central one of the great things he adduces about Him is that He has been raised from the dead.
It is not to be overlooked, of course, that Paul adverts to the resurrection of Christ here with his mind absorbed not so much in the act of His rising as in its issues. "Bear in mind," he says, "Jesus Christ as one who has been raised from the dead": that is to say, as one who could not be holden of the grave, but has burst the bonds of death, and lo! He lives for evermore. But neither can it be overlooked that it is specifically to the resurrection, which is an act, that he adverts; and that he adverts to it in such a manner as to make it manifest that the fact of the resurrection of Christ held a place in his Gospel which deserves to be called nothing less than central. The exalted Christ is conceived by him distinctly as the resurrected Jesus; and it is clear that, had there been no resurrection of Jesus, Paul would not have known how to point Timothy to the exalted Christ as the source of his strength to face with courage the hardships and defeats of life. From this great fact, he derives, therefore, the very phraseology with which he exhorts Timothy, with rich reference to all that is involved in Christ our Forerunner, to die with his Lord that he might also live with Him, to endure with Him that he might also reign with Him. To Paul, it is clear, the resurrection of Christ was the hinge on which turned all his hopes and all his confidence, in life and also in death.
Now, there is a sense in which it is of no special importance to lay stress on the place which the resurrection of Christ held in Paul's thought and preaching. In this sense, to wit: that nobody doubts that it was central to Paul's Gospel. It would seem impossible, in fact, to read the New Testament and miss observing that not only to Paul, but to the whole body of the founders of Christianity, the conviction of the reality of Christ's bodily resurrection entered into the very basis of their faith. The fact is broadly spread upon the surface of the New Testament record. Our Lord Himself deliberately staked His whole claim to the credit of men upon His resurrection. When asked for a sign He pointed to this sign as His single and sufficient credential. The earliest preachers of the Gospel conceived witnessing to the resurrection of their Master to be their primary function. The lively hope and steadfast faith which sprang up in them they ascribed to its power. Paul's whole gospel was the gospel of the Risen Savior.: to His call he ascribed his apostleship; and to His working, all the manifestation of the Christian faith and life. There are in particular two passages in Paul's Epistles, which reveal, in an almost startling way, the supreme place which was ascribed to the resurrection of Christ by the first believers in the Gospel.
In a context of very special vigor he declares roundly that "if Christ hath not been raised" the apostolic preaching and the Christian faith are alike vanity, and those who have believed in Christ lie yet unrelieved of their sins. His meaning is that the resurrection of Christ occupied the center of the Gospel which was preached alike by him and all the apostles, and which had been received by all Christians. If, then, this resurrection should prove to be not a real occurrence, the preachers of the Gospel are convicted of being false witnesses of God, the faith founded on their preaching is proved an empty thing, and the hopes conceived on its basis are rendered void. Here Paul implicates with him the whole Christian community, teachers and taught alike, as suspending the truth of Christianity on the reality of the resurrection of Christ. And so confident is he of universal agreement in the indispensableness of this fact to the integrity of the Christian message, that he uses it for his sole fulcrum for prying back the doctrine of the resurrection of believers into its proper place in the faith of his skeptical readers. "If dead men are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised," is his sole argument. And he plies this argument with the air of a man who knows full well that no one who calls himself a Christian will tolerate that conclusion. The fact that Christ has been raised lay firmly embedded in the depths of the Christian consciousness.
In some respects even more striking are the implications of such phraseology as meets us in another passage. Here the apostle is contrasting all the "gains" of the flesh with the one great "gain" of the spirit-Christ Jesus the Lord. As over against "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord," he declares that he esteems "all things" as but refuse, - the heap of leavings from the feast which is swept from the table for the dogs, - if only he may "gain Christ and be found in Him," if only, he repeats, he may "know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed into His death; if by any means he may attain to the resurrection from the dead." The structure of the sentence requires us to recognize the very essence of the saving efficacy of Christ as resident in "the power of His resurrection." It is through the power exerted by His resurrection that His saving work takes effect on men. That is to say, Paul discovers the center of gravity of the Christian hope no less than of the Christian faith in the fact of the resurrection of Christ. And of the Christian life as well. From the great fact that Christ has risen from the dead, proceed all the influences by which Christians are made in life and attainments, here and hereafter, like Him.
In the face of such evidence, spread broadcast over the New Testament, no one has been able to question that the founders of Christianity entrenched themselves in the fact of Christ's resurrection as the central stronghold of their hope, faith, and proclamation. We do not need to lay stress, therefore, on this implication in such a passage as that before us, as if we were seeking proof for a doubtful or even for a doubted fact. The importance of our laying stress on its implication here and its open assertion throughout the New Testament, is that we may be able to estimate the real significance of a very widespread tendency which has arisen in our own time to question the importance of this event on which the founders of Christianity laid such great emphasis, and to which they attached such palmary consequence. If nobody doubts that the first preachers of the Gospel esteemed the resurrection of Christ the foundation-stone of their proclamation, the chief stay of their faith and hope alike, there are nevertheless many who do not hesitate to declare roundly that the first preachers of the Gospel were grossly deceived in so esteeming it. This is an inevitable sequence, indeed, of the chariness with respect to the supernatural which so strongly characterizes our modern world. The "unmiraculous Christianity" which has, in one or another of its modes of conception, grown so fashionable in our day, as it could scarcely allow that the most stupendous of all miracles really lay at the basis of Christianity in its historical origins, so cannot possibly allow that confidence in the reality of this stupendous miracle lies today at the foundation of the Christian's life and hope. To allow these things would be to confess that Christianity is through and through a supernatural religion - supernatural in its origin, supernatural in its sanctions, supernatural in its operations in the world. And then, - what would become of "unmiraculous Christianity"?
Accordingly, we have now for more than a whole generation, been told over and over again, and with ever-increasing stridency of voice, that it makes no manner of difference whether Jesus rose from the dead or not. The main fact, we are told, is not whether the body that was laid in the tomb was resuscitated. Of what religious value, we are asked, can that purely physical fact be to any man? The main fact is that Jesus-that Jesus who lived in the world a life of such transcendent attractiveness, going about doing good, and by His unshaken and unshakable faith in providence revealed to men the love of a Father-God, this Jesus, though He underwent the inevitable experience of change which men call death, yet still lives. Lives ! - lives in His Church; or at least lives in that heaven to which He pointed us as the home of our Father, and to which we may all follow Him from the evils of this life; or in any event lives in the influence which His beautiful and inspiring life still exerts upon His followers and through them in the world. This, this, we are told, is the fact of real religious value; the only fact upon which the religious emotions can take hold; by which the religious life can be quickened; and through which we may be impelled to religious effort and strengthened in religious endurance.
The beauty of the language in which these assertions are clothed and the fervor of religious feeling with which it is suffused, must not be permitted to blind us to the real issue that is raised by them. This is not whether our faith is grounded in a mere resuscitation of a dead man two thousand years ago; or rather in a living Lord reigning in the heavens. It is not the peculiarity of this new view that it focuses men's eyes on the glorified Jesus and bids them look to Him for their inspiration and strength. That is what the apostles did, and what all, since the apostles, who have followed in their footsteps, have done. Paul did not say to Timothy merely, "Remember that Jesus Christ, when He died, rose again from the dead, "- although to have said that would have been to have said much. Directing Timothy's eyes to the glorified Jesus, reigning in power in the heavens, he said, "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David." It is not, then, the peculiarity of this new view that it has discovered the living and reigning Christ. The living and reigning Christ has always been the object of the adoring faith of Christians. It is its peculiarity that it neglects or denies the resurrected Christ.
It does not pretend that in neglecting or denying the resurrected Christ it does not break with the entirety of historical Christianity. It freely allows that the apostles firmly believed in a resurrected Christ, and that, following the apostles, Christians up to today have firmly believed in a resurrected Christ. And it freely allows that this firm belief in a resurrected Christ has been the source of much of the enthusiasm of Christian faith and of the Christian propaganda through all the ages. But it heartily affirms that this emphasis on the resurrected Christ nevertheless involves a gross confusion - no less a confusion than that of the kernel with the husk. And it stoutly maintains that the time has come to shell off the husk and keep the kernel only. Religious belief, we are told, cannot possibly rest on or be inseparably connected with a mere occurrence in time and space. What others have seen in a different age from ours-what is that to us? That Jesus rose from the dead two thousand years ago and was seen of men - how can that concern us today? All that can possibly be of any significance to us is that He was "not swallowed up in death, but passed through suffering and death to glory, that is, to life, power, and honor." "Faith has nothing to do with the knowledge of the form in which Jesus lives, but only with the conviction that He is the living Lord."
Here now is a brand-new conception of the matter, standing in express contrast, and in expressly acknowledged contrast, with the conception of the founders, and hitherto of the whole body of the adherents, of Christianity. It is the outgrowth, as we have already hinted, of a distaste for the supernatural. To get rid of the supernatural in the origins of Christianity, its entire historical character is surrendered. The Christianity now to be proclaimed is to be confessedly a "I new Christianity " - a different Christianity from any which has ever heretofore existed on the face of the earth. And its novelty consists in this, that it is to have no roots in historical occurrences of any kind whatsoever. Religious belief, we are told, must be independent of all mere facts.
We must not forget that the professed purpose of this new determination of the relation of Christianity to fact is to save Christianity. If Christianity is independent of all historical facts, why, it is clear that it cannot be assailed through the medium of historical criticism. Let criticism reconstruct the historical circumstances which have been connected with its origin as it may; it cannot touch this Christianity which stands out of relation with all historical occurrences whatever. Doubtless it would be a great relief to many minds to be emancipated from all fear of historical criticism. But it is certainly a great price we are asked to pay for this emancipation. The price indeed is no less an one than Christianity itself. For the obvious effect of the detachment of Christianity from all historical fact is to dismiss Christianity out of the realm of fact.
Christianity is a "historical religion," and a "Christianity" wholly unrelated to historical occurrences is just no Christianity at all. Religion, - yes, man may have religion without historical facts to build upon, for man is a religious animal and can no more escape from religion than he can escape from any other of his persistent instincts. He may still by the grace of God know something of God and the soul, moral responsibility and immortality. But do not even the heathen know the same? And what have we more than they? We may still call by the name of "Christianity" the tattered rags of natural religion which may be left us when we have cast away all the facts which constitute Christianity, - the age-long preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God; the Incarnation of the Son of God; His atoning death on the Cross; His rising again on the third day and His ascension to heaven; the descent of the Spirit on the Pentecostal birthday of the Church. But to do so is to outrage all the proprieties of honest nomenclature. For "Christianity" is not a mere synonym of "religion," but is a specific form of religion determined in its peculiarity by the great series of historical occurrences which constitute the redemptive work of God in this sinful world, among which occurrences the resurrection of Christ holds a substantial and in some respects the key posit ion.
The impossibility of sustaining anything which can be called "Christianity" without embracing in it historical facts, may be illustrated by the difficulty in carrying out their program which is experienced by men who talk of freeing Christianity from its dependence on facts. For do they not bid us to abstract our minds, indeed, from that imagined resuscitation that occurred in Palestine (if it occurred at all) two thousand years ago, but to focus them nevertheless on the living Jesus, who has survived death and still lives in heaven? Do they forget that when they say "Jesus" they already say "history"? Who is this "Jesus" who still lives in heaven, and the fact of whose still living in heaven, having passed through death, is to be our inspiration? Did He once live on earth? And, living on earth, did He not manifest that unwavering faith in providence which reveals the Father-God to us? Otherwise what is it to us that He "still" lives in heaven? To be free from the entanglements of history; to be immune from the assaults of historical criticism; it is not enough to cease to care for such facts as His resurrection: we must cease to care for the whole fact of Jesus. Jesus is a historical figure. What He was, no less than what He did, is a matter of historical testimony. When we turn our backs on historical facts as of no significance to our, Christianity," we must turn our backs as well on Jesus-any Jesus we choose to rescue for ourselves from the hands of historical criticism. He who would have a really "unhistorical Christianity" must know no Jesus whether on earth or in heaven. And surely a Christianity without Jesus is just no Christianity at all.
Christianity then stands or falls with the historical facts which, we do not say merely accompanied its advent into the world, but have given it its specific form as a religion. These historical facts constitute its substance, and to be indifferent to them is to be indifferent to the substance of Christianity. In these circumstances it is a dangerous proceeding to declare this or that one of them of no significance to the Christian religion. Especially is it a dangerous proceeding to single out for this declaration, one in which the founders of Christianity discovered so much significance as they discovered in the resurrection of Christ. When Paul says to us, not "Remember Jesus Christ enthroned in heaven," but "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David," we surely must pause before we allow ourselves to say, "It is of no importance whether He rose from the dead or not." And if we pause and think but a moment, we certainly shall not fail to set our seal to Paul's judgment of the significance of His rising from the dead to the Christian religion. For once let us cast our minds over the real place which the resurrection of Christ holds in the Christian system and we shall not easily escape the conviction that this fact is fundamental to its entire message.
Let us recall in rapid survey some of the various ways in which the resurrection of Jesus evinces itself as lying at the basis of all our hope and of all the hope of the world.
It is natural to think, first of all, of the place of this great fact in Christian apologetics. Opinions may conceivably differ whether it would have been possible to believe in Christianity as a supernaturally given religion if Christ had remained holden of the grave. But it is scarcely disputable that the fact that He did rise again, being once established, supplies an irrefragable demonstration of the supernatural origin of Christianity, of the validity of Christ's claim to be the Son of God, and of the trust worthiness of His teaching as a Messenger from God to man. In the light of this stupendous miracle, all hesitation with respect to the supernatural accompaniments of the life that preceded it, or of the succeeding establishment of the religion to which its seal had been set,nay, of the whole preparation for the coming of the Messenger of God who was to live and die and rise again, and of the whole issue of His life and death and resurrect ion-becomes at once unreasonable and absurd. The religion of Christ is stamped at once from heaven as divine, and all marks of divinity in its preparation, accompaniments, and sequences become at once congruous and natural. From the empty grave of Jesus the enemies of the cross turn away in unconcealable dismay. Christ has risen from the dead! After two thousand years of the most determined assault upon the evidence which establishes it, that fact stands. And so long as it stands, Christianity too must stand as the one supernatural religion. The resurrection of Christ is the fundamental apologetical fact of Christianity.
But it holds no more fundamental place in Christian apologetics than in the revelation of life and immortality which Christianity brings to a dying world. By it the veil was lifted and men were permitted to see the reality of that other world to which we are all journeying. The whole relation they bore to life and death, and the life beyond death, was revolutionized to those who saw Him and companied with Him after He had risen from the dead. Death had no longer any terrors for them: they no longer needed to believe, they knew, that there was life on the other side of death, that the grave was but a sojourning place, and, though their earthly tent dwelling were dissolved, they had a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
And we who have come later may see with their eyes and handle with their hands the Word of Life. We can no longer speak of a bourne from which no traveler e'er returns. The resurrection of Christ has broken the middle wall of partition down and only a veil now separates earth from heaven. That He who has died has been raised again and ever lives in the completeness of His humanity is the fundamental fact in the revelation of the Christian doctrine of immortality.
Equally fundamental is the place which Christ's resurrection occupies relatively to our confidence in His claims, His teachings, and His promises. The Lord of Life could not succumb to death. Had he not risen, could we have believed Him when He "made Himself equal with God"? By His resurrection He set a seal on all the instructions which He gave and on all the hopes which He awakened. Had the one sign which He chose failed, would not His declarations have all failed with it? Is it nothing to us that He who said, "Come unto Me and I will give you rest who has promised to be with those who trust Him always even unto the end of the world"; who has announced to us the forgiveness of sins; has proved that He has power to lay down His life and to take it again? Whether is it easier to say, "Thy sins be forgiven thee," or "I will arise and walk "?.That He could not be holden of death, but arose in the power of a deathless life, gives us to know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins.
And there is a yet deeper truth: the resurrection of Christ is fundamental to the Christian's assurance that Christ's work is complete and His redemption is accomplished. It is not enough that we should be able to say, "He was delivered up for our trespasses." We must be able to add, "He was raised for our justification." Else what would enable us to say, He was able to pay the penalty He had undertaken? That He died manifests His love and His willingness to save. It is His rising again that manifests His power and His ability to save. We cannot be saved by a dead Christ, who undertook but could not perform, and who still lies under the Syrian sky, another martyr of impotent love. To save, He must pass not merely to but through death. If the penalty was fully paid, it cannot have broken Him, it must needs have been broken upon Him. The resurrection of Christ is thus the indispensable evidence of His completed work, of His accomplished redemption. It is only because He rose from the dead that we know that the ransom He offered was sufficient, the sacrifice was accepted, and that we are His purchased possession. In one word, the resurrection of Christ is fundamental to the Christian hope and the Christian confidence.
It is fundamental, therefore, to our expectation of ourselves rising from the dead. Because Christ has risen, we no more judge that "if one died for all, then all died," "that the body of sin might be done away," than that having died with Him "we shall also live with Him." His resurrection drags ours in its train. In His rising He conquered death and presented to God in His own person the first-fruits of the victory over the grave. In His rising we have the earnest and pledge of our rising: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will He bring with Him." Had Christ not risen could we nourish so great a hope? Could we believe that what is sown in corruption shall be raised in incorruption; what is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory; what is sown in weakness shall be raised in power; what is sown a body under the dominion of a sinful self shall be raised a body wholly determined by the spirit of God?
Last of all, to revert to the suggestion of the words of Paul with which we began, in the resurrection of Christ we have the assurance that He is the Lord of heaven and earth whose right it is to rule and in whose hands are gathered the reins of the universe. Without it we could believe in His love: He died for us. We could believe in His continued life beyond the tomb: who does not live after death? It might even be possible that we should believe in His victory over evil: for it might be conceived that one should be holy, and yet involved in the working of a universal law. But had he not risen, could we believe Him enthroned in heaven, Lord of all? Himself subject to death; Himself the helpless prisoner of the grave; does He differ in kind from that endless procession of the slaves of death journeying like Him through the world to the one inevitable end? If it is fundamental to Christianity that Jesus should be Lord of all; that God should have highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess Him Lord: then it is fundamental to Christianity that death too should be subject to Him and it should not be possible for Him to see corruption. This last enemy too He must needs, as Paul asserts, put under His feet; and it is because He has put this last enemy under His feet that we can say with such energy of conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, - not even death itself: and that nothing can harm us and nothing take away our peace.
O the comfort, O the joy, O the courage, that dwells in the great fact that Jesus is the Risen One, of the seed of David; that as the Risen One He has become Head over all things; and that He must reign until
He shall have put all things under His feet. Our brother, who has like us been acquainted with death, -He it is who rules over the ages, the ages that are past, and the ages that are passing, and the ages that are yet to come. If our hearts should fail us as we stand over against the hosts of wickedness which surround us, let us encourage ourselves and one another with the great reminder: Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David!