By George MacDonald
I linger on the threshold. How shall I enter the temple of this wonder? Through all ages men of all degrees and forms of religion have hoped at least for a continuance of life beyond its seeming extinction. Without such a hope, how could they have endured the existence they had? True, there are in our day men who profess unbelief in that future, and yet lead an enjoyable life, nor even say to themselves, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;" but say instead, with nobleness, "Let us do what good we may, for there are men to come after us." Of all things let him who would be a Christian be fair to every man and every class of men. Before, however, I could be satisfied that I understood the mental condition of such, I should require a deeper insight than I possess in respect of other men. These, however numerous they seem in our day, would appear to be exceptions to the race. No doubt there have always been those who from absorption in the present and its pleasures, have not cared about the future, have not troubled themselves with the thought of it. Some of them would rather not think of it, because if there be such a future, they cannot be easy concerning their part in it; while others are simply occupied with the poor present--a present grand indeed if it be the part of an endless whole, but poor indeed if it stand alone. But here are thoughtful men, who say, "There is no more. Let us make the best of this." Nor is their notion of best contemptible, although in the eyes of some of us, to whom the only worth of being lies in the hope of becoming that which, at the rate of present progress, must take ages to be realized, it is poor. I will venture one or two words on the matter.
Their ideal does not approach the ideal of Christianity for this life even.
Before I can tell whether their words are a true representation of themselves, in relation to this future, I must know both their conscious and unconscious being. No wonder I should be loath to judge them.
No poet of high rank, as far as I know, ever disbelieved in the future. He might fear that there was none; but that very fear is faith. The greatest poet of the present day believes with ardour. That it is not proven to the intellect, I heartily admit. But if it were true, it were such as the intellect could not grasp, for the understanding must be the offspring of the life--in itself essential. How should the intellect understand its own origin and nature? It is too poor to grasp this question; for the continuity of existence depends on the nature of existence, not upon external relations. If after death we should be conscious that we yet live, we shall even then, I think, be no more able to prove a further continuance of life, than we can now prove our present being. It may be easier to believe--that will be all. But we constantly act upon grounds which we cannot prove, and if we cannot feel so sure of life beyond the grave as of common every-day things, at least the want of proof ought neither to destroy our hope concerning it, nor prevent the action demanded by its bare possibility.
But last, I do say this, that those men, who, disbelieving in a future state, do yet live up to the conscience within them, however much lower the requirements of that conscience may be than those of a conscience which believes itself enlightened from "the Lord, who is that spirit," shall enter the other life in an immeasurably more enviable relation thereto than those who say Lord, Lord, and do not the things he says to them.
It may seem strange that our Lord says so little about the life to come--as we call it--though in truth it is one life with the present--as the leaf and the blossom are one life. Even in argument with the Sadducees he supports his side upon words accepted by them, and upon the nature of God, but says nothing of the question from a human point of regard. He seems always to have taken it for granted, ever turning the minds of his scholars towards that which was deeper and lay at its root--the life itself--the oneness with God and his will, upon which the continuance of our conscious being follows of a necessity, and without which if the latter were possible, it would be for human beings an utter evil.
When he speaks of the world beyond, it is as his Father's house. He says there are many mansions there. He attempts in no way to explain. Man's own imagination enlightened of the spirit of truth, and working with his experience and affections, was a far safer guide than his intellect with the best schooling which even our Lord could have given it. The memory of the poorest home of a fisherman on the shore of the Galilean lake, where he as a child had spent his years of divine carelessness in his father's house, would, at the words of our Lord my Father's house, convey to Peter or James or John more truth concerning the many mansions than a revelation to their intellect, had it been possible, as clear as the Apocalypse itself is obscure.
When he said "I have overcome the world" he had overcome the cause of all doubt, the belief in the outside appearances and not in the living truth: he left it to his followers to say, from their own experience knowing the thing, not merely from the belief of his resurrection, "He has conquered death and the grave. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" It is the inward life of truth that conquers the outward death of appearance; and nothing else, no revelation from without, could conquer it.
These miracles of our Lord are the nearest we come to news of any kind concerning--I cannot say from--the other world. I except of course our Lord's own resurrection. Of that I shall yet speak as a miracle, for miracle it was, as certainly as any of our Lord's, whatever interpretation be put upon the word. And I say the nearest to news we come, because not one of those raised from the dead gives us at least an atom of information. Is it possible they may have told their friends something which has filtered down to us in any shape?
I turn to the cases on record. They are only three. The day after he cured the servant of the centurion at Capernaum, Jesus went to Nain, and as they approached the gate--but I cannot part the story from the lovely words in which it is told by St Luke: "There was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier; and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother."
In each of the cases there is an especial fitness in the miracle. This youth was the only son of a widow; the daughter of Jairus was his "one only daughter;" Lazarus was the brother of two orphan sisters.
I will not attempt by any lingering over the simple details to render the record more impressive. That lingering ought to be on the part of the reader of the narrative itself. Friends crowded around a loss--the centre of the gathering that which was not--the sole presence the hopeless sign of a vanished treasure--an open gulf, as it were, down which love and tears and sad memories went plunging in a soundless cataract: the weeping mother--the dead man borne in the midst. They were going to the house of death, but Life was between them and it--was walking to meet them, although they knew it not. A face of tender pity looks down on the mother. She heeds him not. He goes up to the bier, and lays his hand on it. The bearers recognize authority, and stand. A word, and the dead sits up. A moment more, and he is in the arms of his mother. O mother! mother! wast thou more favoured than other mothers? Or was it that, for the sake of all mothers as well as thyself, thou wast made the type of the universal mother with the dead son--the raising of him but a foretaste of the one universal bliss of mothers with dead sons? That thou wert an exception would have ill met thy need, for thy motherhood could not be justified in thyself alone. It could not have its rights save on grounds universal. Thy motherhood was common to all thy sisters. To have helped thee by exceptional favour would not have been to acknowledge thy motherhood. That must go mourning still, even with thy restored son in its bosom, for its claims are universal or they are not. Thou wast indeed a chosen one, but that thou mightest show to all the last fate of the mourning mother; for in God's dealings there are no exceptions. His laws are universal as he is infinite. Jesus wrought no new thing--only the works of the Father. What matters it that the dead come not back to us, if we go to them? What matters it? said I! It is tenfold better. Dear as home is, he who loves it best must know that what he calls home is not home, is but a shadow of home, is but the open porch of home, where all the winds of the world rave by turns, and the glowing fire of the true home casts lovely gleams from within.
Certainly this mother did not thus lose her son again. Doubtless next she died first, knowing then at last that she had only to wait. The dead must have their sorrow too, but when they find it is well with them, they can sit and wait by the mouth of the coming stream better than those can wait who see the going stream bear their loves down to the ocean of the unknown. The dead sit by the river-mouths of Time: the living mourn upon its higher banks.
But for the joy of the mother, we cannot conceive it. No mother even who has lost her son, and hopes one blessed eternal day to find him again, can conceive her gladness. Had it been all a dream? A dream surely in this sense, that the final, which alone, in the full sense, is God's will, must ever cast the look of a dream over all that has gone before. When we last awake, we shall know that we dreamed. Even every honest judgment, feeling, hope, desire, will show itself a dream--with this difference from some dreams, that the waking is the more lovely, that nothing is lost, but everything gained, in the full blaze of restored completeness. How triumphant would this mother die, when her turn came!
And how calmly would the restored son go about the duties of the world. [Footnote:11 Those who can take the trouble, and are capable of understanding it, will do well to study Robert Browning's "Epistle of an Arab Physician."]
He sat up and began to speak.
It is vain to look into that which God has hidden; for surely it is by no chance that we are left thus in the dark. "He began to speak." Why does not the Evangelist go on to give us some hint of what he said? Would not the hearts of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, children, husbands--who shall say where the divine madness of love will cease?--grandfathers, grandmothers--themselves with flickering flame--yes, grandchildren, weeping over the loss of the beloved gray head and tremulously gentle voice--would not all these have blessed God for St Luke's record of what the son of the widow said? For my part, I thank God he was silent.
When I think of the pictures of heaven drawn from the attempt of prophecy to utter its visions in the poor forms of the glory of earth, I see it better that we should walk by faith, and not by a fancied sight. I judge that the region beyond is so different from ours, so comprising in one surpassing excellence all the goods of ours, that any attempt of the had-been-dead to describe it, would have resulted in the most wretched of misconceptions. Such might please the lower conditions of Christian development--but so much the worse, for they could not fail to obstruct its further growth. It is well that St Luke is silent; or that the mother and the friends who stood by the bier, heard the words of the returning spirit only as the babble of a child from which they could draw no definite meaning, and to which they could respond only by caresses.
The story of the daughter of Jairus is recorded briefly by St Matthew, more fully by St Luke, most fully by St Mark. One of the rulers of the synagogue at Capernaum falls at the feet of our Lord, saying his little daughter is at the point of death. She was about twelve years of age. He begs the Lord to lay his hands on her that she may live. Our Lord goes with him, followed by many people. On his way to restore the child he is arrested by a touch. He makes no haste to outstrip death. We can imagine the impatience of the father when the Lord stood and asked who touched him. What did that matter? his daughter was dying; Death would not wait.
But the woman's heart and soul must not be passed by. The father with the only daughter must wait yet a little. The will of God cannot be outstripped.
"While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue's house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?" "Ah! I thought so! There it is! Death has won the race!" we may suppose the father to say--bitterly within himself. But Jesus, while he tried the faith of men, never tried it without feeding its strength. With the trial he always gives the way of escape. "As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken"--not leaving it to work its agony of despair first--"he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid; only believe." They are such simple words--commonplace in the ears of those who have heard them often and heeded them little! but containing more for this man's peace than all the consolations of philosophy, than all the enforcements of morality; yea, even than the raising of his daughter itself. To arouse the higher, the hopeful, the trusting nature of a man; to cause him to look up into the unknown region of mysterious possibilities--the God so poorly known--is to do infinitely more for a man than to remove the pressure of the direst evil without it. I will go further: To arouse the hope that there may be a God with a heart like our own is more for the humanity in us than to produce the absolute conviction that there is a being who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and the fountains of waters. Jesus is the express image of God's substance, and in him we know the heart of God. To nourish faith in himself was the best thing he could do for the man.
We hear of no word from the ruler further. If he answered not our Lord in words, it is no wonder. The compressed lip and the uplifted eye would say more than any words to the heart of the Saviour.
Now it would appear that he stopped the crowd and would let them go no farther. They could not all see, and he did not wish them to see. It was not good for men to see too many miracles. They would feast their eyes, and then cease to wonder or think. The miracle, which would be all, and quite dissociated from religion, with many of them, would cease to be wonderful, would become a common thing with most. Yea, some would cease to believe that it had been. They would say she did sleep after all--she was not dead. A wonder is a poor thing for faith after all; and the miracle could be only a wonder in the eyes of those who had not prayed for it, and could not give thanks for it; who did not feel that in it they were partakers of the love of God.
Jesus must have hated anything like display. God's greatest work has never been done in crowds, but in closets; and when it works out from thence, it is not upon crowds, but upon individuals. A crowd is not a divine thing. It is not a body. Its atoms are not members one of another. A crowd is a chaos over which the Spirit of God has yet to move, ere each retires to his place to begin his harmonious work, and unite with all the rest in the organized chorus of the human creation. The crowd must be dispersed that the church may be formed.
The relation of the crowd to the miracle is rightly reflected in what came to the friends of the house. To them, weeping and wailing greatly, after the Eastern fashion, he said when he entered, "Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth." They laughed him to scorn. He put them all out.
But what did our Lord mean by those words--"The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth"? Not certainly that, as we regard the difference between death and sleep, his words were to be taken literally; not that she was only in a state of coma or lethargy; not even that it was a case of suspended animation as in catalepsy; for the whole narrative evidently intends us to believe that she was dead after the fashion we call death. That this was not to be dead after the fashion our Lord called death, is a blessed and lovely fact.
Neither can it mean, that she was not dead as others, in that he was going to wake her so soon; for they did not know that, and therefore it could give no ground for the expostulation, "Why make ye this ado, and weep?"
Nor yet could it come only from the fact that to his eyes death and sleep were so alike, the one needing the power of God for awaking just as much as the other. True they must be more alike in his eyes than even in the eyes of the many poets who have written of "Death and his brother Sleep;" but he sees the differences none the less clearly, and how they look to us, and his knowledge could be no reason for reproaching our ignorance. The explanation seems to me large and simple. These people professed to believe in the resurrection of the dead, and did believe after some feeble fashion. They were not Sadducees, for they were the friends of a ruler of the synagogue. Our Lord did not bring the news of resurrection to the world: that had been believed, in varying degrees, by all peoples and nations from the first: the resurrection he taught was a far deeper thing--the resurrection from dead works to serve the living and true God. But as with the greater number even of Christians, although it was part of their creed, and had some influence upon their moral and spiritual condition, their practical faith in the resurrection of the body was a poor affair. In the moment of loss and grief, they thought little about it. They lived then in the present almost alone; they were not saved by hope. The reproach therefore of our Lord was simply that they did not take from their own creed the consolation they ought. If the child was to be one day restored to them, then she was not dead as their tears and lamentations would imply. Any one of themselves who believed in God and the prophets, might have stood up and said--"Mourners, why make such ado? The maid is not dead, but sleepeth. You shall again clasp her to your bosom. Hope, and fear not--only believe." It was in this sense, I think, that our Lord spoke.
But it may not at first appear how much grander the miracle itself appears in the light of this simple interpretation of the Master's words. The sequel stands in the same relation to the words as if--turning into the death-chamber, and bringing the maid out by the hand--he had said to them: "See--I told you she was not dead but sleeping." The words apply to all death, just as much as to that in which this girl lay. The Lord brings his assurance, his knowledge of what we do not know, to feed our feeble faith. It is as if he told us that our notion of death is all wrong, that there is no such thing as we think it; that we should be nearer the truth if we denied it altogether, and gave to what we now call death the name of sleep, for it is but a passing appearance, and no right cause of such misery as we manifest in its presence. I think it was from this word of our Lord, and from the same utterance in the case of Lazarus, that St Paul so often uses the word sleep for die and for death. Indeed the notion of death, as we feel it, seems to have vanished entirely from St Paul's mind--he speaks of things so in a continuity, not even referring to the change--not even saying before death or after death, as if death made no atom of difference in the progress of holy events, the divine history of the individual and of the race together. In a word, when he raised the dead, the Son did neither more nor less nor other than the work of the Father--what he is always doing; he only made it manifest a little sooner to the eyes and hearts of men.
But they to whom he spoke laughed him to scorn. They knew she was dead, and their unfaithfulness blinded their hearts to what he meant. They were unfit to behold the proof of what he had said. Such as they, in such mood, could gather from it no benefit. A faithful heart alone is capable of understanding the proof of the truest things. It is faith towards God which alone can lay hold of any of his facts. There is a foregoing fitness. Therefore he put them all out. But the father and mother, whose love and sorrow made them more easily persuaded of mighty things, more accessible to holy influences, and the three disciples, whose faith rendered them fit to behold otherwise dangerous wonders, he took with him into the chamber where the damsel lay--dead toward men--sleeping toward God. Dead as she was, she only slept.
"Damsel, I say unto thee, arise." "And her spirit came again," "and straightway the damsel arose and walked," "and he commanded to give her meat." For in the joy of her restoration, they might forget that the more complete the health of a worn and exhausted body, the more needful was food--food which, in all its commonness, might well support the miracle; for not only did it follow by the next word to that which had wrought the miracle, but it worked in perfect harmony with the law which took shape in this resurrection, and in its relations to the human being involved no whit less marvel than lay in the miracle itself. The raising of the dead and the feeding of the living are both and equally divine--therefore in utter harmony. And we do not any more understand the power in the body which takes to itself that food, than we understand the power going out from Jesus to make this girl's body capable of again employing its ministrations. They are both of one and must be perfect in harmony, the one as much the outcome of law as the other.
He charges the parents to be silent, it may be for his sake, who did not want to be made a mere wonder of, but more probably for their sakes, that the holy thing might not evaporate in speech, or be defiled with foolish talk and the glorification of self-importance in those for whom a mighty wonder had been done; but that in silence the seed might take root in their hearts and bring forth living fruit in humility, and uprightness, and faith.
And now for the wonderful story of Lazarus. In this miracle one might think the desire of Jesus for his friend's presence through his own coming trouble, might have had a share, were it not that we never find him working a miracle for himself. He knew the perfect will of the Father, and left all to him. Those who cannot know that will and do not care for it, have to fall into trouble that they may know God as the Saviour from their own doings--as the fountain of all their well-being. This Jesus had not to learn, and therefore could need no miracle wrought for him. Even his resurrection was all for others. That miracle was wrought in, not for him.
He knew Lazarus was dying. He abode where he was and let him die. For a hard and therefore precious lesson for sisters and friends lay in that death, and the more the love the more precious the lesson--the same that lies in every death; and the end the same for all who love--resurrection. The raising of Lazarus is the type of the raising of all the dead. Of Lazarus, as of the daughter of Jairus, he said "he sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep." He slept as every dead man sleeps.
Read the story. Try to think not only what the disciples felt, but what Jesus was thinking; how he, who saw the other side, regarded the death he was about to destroy.
"Lord, if thou hadst been here," said Martha, "my brother had not died."
Did she mean to hint what she had not faith enough to ask?
"Thy brother shall rise again," said the Lord.
But her faith was so weak that she took little comfort from the assurance. Alas! she knew what it meant. She knew all about it. He spoke of the general far-off resurrection, which to her was a very little thing. It was true he should rise again; but what was that to the present consuming grief? A thousand years might be to God as one day, but to Martha the one day was a thousand years. It is only to him who entirely believes in God that the thousand years become one day also. For he that believes shares in the vision of him in whom he believes. It is through such faith that Jesus would help her--far beyond the present awful need. He seeks to raise her confidence in himself by the strongest assertions of the might that was in him. "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live!" The death of not believing in God--the God revealed in Jesus--is the only death. The other is nowhere but in the fears and fancies of unbelief. "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." There is for him nothing to be called death; nothing that is what death looks to us.
"Believest thou this?"
Martha was an honest woman. She did not fully understand what he meant. She could not, therefore, do more than assent to it. But she believed in him, and that much she could tell him plainly.
"Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world."
And that hope with the confession arose in her heart, she gave the loveliest sign: she went and called her sister. But even in the profounder Mary faith reached only to the words of her sister:
"Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."
When he saw her trouble, and that of the Jews with her, he was troubled likewise. But why? The purest sympathy with what was about to vanish would not surely make him groan in his spirit. Why, then, this trouble in our Lord's heart? We have a right, yea, a duty, to understand it if we can, for he showed it.
I think it was caused by an invading sense of the general misery of poor humanity from the lack of that faith in the Father without which he, the Son, could do, or endure, nothing. If the Father ceased the Son must cease. It was the darkness between God and his creatures that gave room for and was filled with their weeping and wailing over their dead. To them death must appear an unmitigated and irremediable evil. How frightful to feel as they felt! to see death as they saw it! Nothing could help their misery but that faith in the infinite love which he had come to bring them; but how hard it was to persuade them to receive it! And how many weeping generations of loving hearts must follow! His Father was indeed with them all, but how slowly and painfully would each learn the one precious fact!
"Where have ye laid him?" he asked.
"Lord, come and see," they answered, in such mournful accents of human misery that he wept with them.
They come to the grave.
"Take ye away the stone."
"Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days," said she who believed in the Resurrection and the Life! They are the saddest of sad words. I hardly know how to utter the feeling they raise. In all the relations of mortality to immortality, of body to soul, there are painful and even ugly things, things to which, by common consent, we refer only upon dire necessity, and with a sense of shame. Happy they in whom the mortal has put on immortality! Decay and its accompaniments, all that makes the most beloved of the appearances of God's creation a terror, compelling us to call to the earth for succour, and pray her to take our dead out of our sight, to receive her own back into her bosom, and unmake in secret darkness that which was the glory of the light in our eyes--this was upper-most with Martha, even in the presence of him to whom Death was but a slave to come and go at his will. Careful of his feelings, of the shock to his senses, she would oppose his will. For the dead brother's sake also, that he should not be dishonoured in his privacy, she would not have had that stone removed. But had it been as Martha feared, who so tender with feeble flesh as the Son of Man? Who so unready to impute the shame it could not help? Who less fastidious over the painful working of the laws of his own world?
Entire affection hateth nicer hands.
And at the worst, what was decay to him, who could recall the disuniting atoms under the restored law of imperial life?
"Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?"
Again I say the essential glory of God who raises all the dead, not merely an exceptional glory of God in raising this one dead man.
They should see not corruption but glory. No evil odour of dissolution should assail them, but glowing life should spring from the place of the dead; light should be born from the very bosom of the darkness.
They took away the friendly stone. Then Jesus spoke, not to the dead man, but to the living Father. The men and women about him must know it as the Father's work. "And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." So might they believe that the work was God's, that he was doing the will of God, and that they might trust in the God whose will was such as this. He claimed the presence of God in what he did, that by the open claim and the mighty deed following it they might see that the Father justified what the Son said, and might receive him and all that he did as the manifestation of the Father. And now--
"Lazarus, come forth."
Slow toiling, with hand and foot bound in the grave clothes, he that had been dead struggled forth to the light. What an awful moment! When did ever corruption and glory meet and embrace as now! Oh! what ready hands, eager almost to helplessness, were stretched trembling towards the feeble man returning from his strange journey, to seize and carry him into the day--their poor day, which they thought all the day, forgetful of that higher day which for their sakes he had left behind, content to walk in moonlight a little longer, gladdened by the embraces of his sisters, and--perhaps--I do not know--comforting their hearts with news of the heavenly regions!
Joy of all joys! The dead come back! Is it any wonder that this Mary should spend three hundred pence on an ointment for the feet of the Raiser of the Dead?
I doubt if he told them anything? I do not think he could make even his own flesh and blood--of woman-kind, quick to understand--know the things he had seen and heard and felt. All that can be said concerning this, is thus said by our beloved brother Tennyson in his book In Memoriam:
'Where wert thou, brother, those four days?'
There lives no record of reply,
Which telling what it is to die,
Had surely added praise to praise.
Behold a man raised up by Christ!
The rest remaineth unrevealed;
He told it not; or something sealed
The lips of that Evangelist.
Why are we left in such ignorance?
Without the raising of the dead, without the rising of the Saviour himself, Christianity would not have given what it could of hope for the future. Hope is not faith, but neither is faith sight; and if we have hope we are not miserable men. But Christianity must not, could not interfere with the discipline needful for its own fulfilment, could not depose the schoolmaster that leads unto Christ. One main doubt and terror which drives men towards the revelation in Jesus, is this strange thing Death. How shall any man imagine he is complete in himself, and can do without a Father in heaven, when he knows that he knows neither the mystery whence he sprung by birth, nor the mystery to which he goes by death? God has given us room away from himself as Robert Browning says:--
..."God, whose pleasure brought
Man into being, stands away,
As it were, an hand-breadth off, to give
Room for the newly-made to live,
And look at Him from a place apart,
And use His gifts of brain and heart"--
and this room, in its time-symbol, is bounded by darkness on the one hand, and darkness on the other. Whence I came and whither I go are dark: how can I live in peace without the God who ordered it thus? Faith is my only refuge--an absolute belief in a being so much beyond myself, that he can do all for this me with utter satisfaction to this me, protecting all its rights, jealously as his own from which they spring, that he may make me at last one with himself who is my deeper self, inasmuch as his thought of me is my life. And not to know him, even if I could go on living and happy without him, is death.
It may be said, "Why all this? Why not go on like a brave man to meet your fate, careless of what that fate may be?"
"But what if this fate should depend on myself? Am I to be careless then?" I answer.
"The fate is so uncertain! If it be annihilation, why quail before it? Cowardice at least is contemptible."
"Is not indifference more contemptible? That one who has once thought should not care to go on to think? That this glory should perish--is it no grief? Is life not a good with all its pain? Ought one to be willing to part with a good? Ought he not to cleave fast thereto? Have you never grudged the coming sleep, because you must cease for the time to be so much as you were before? For my part, I think the man who can go to sleep without faith in God has yet to learn what being is. He who knows not God cannot, however, have much to lose in losing being. And yet--and yet--did he never love man or woman or child? Is he content that there should be no more of it? Above all, is he content to go on with man and woman and child now, careless of whether the love is a perishable thing? If it be, why does he not kill himself, seeing it is all a lie--a false appearance of a thing too glorious to be fact, but for which our best nature calls aloud--and cannot have it? If one knew for certain that there was no life beyond this, then the noble thing would be to make the best of this, yea even then to try after such things as are written in the Gospel as we call it--for they are the noblest. That I am sure of, whatever I may doubt. But not to be sure of annihilation, and yet choose it to be true, and act as if it were true, seems to me to indicate a nature at strife with immortality--bound for the dust by its own choice--of the earth, and returning to the dust."
The man will say, "That is yielding everything. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. I am of the dust, for I believe in nothing beyond."
"No," I return. "I recognize another law in myself which seems to me infinitely higher. And I think that law is in you also, although you are at strife with it, and will revive in you to your blessed discontent. By that I will walk, and not by yours--a law which bids me strive after what I am not but may become--a law in me striving against the law of sin and down-dragging decay--a law which is one with my will, and, if true, must of all things make one at last. If I am made to live I ought not to be willing to cease. This unwillingness to cease--above all, this unwillingness to cease to love my own, the fore-front to me of my all men--may be in me the sign, may well be in me the sign that I am made to live. Above all to pass away without the possibility of making reparation to those whom I have wronged, with no chance of saying I am sorry--what shall I do for you? Grant me some means of delivering myself from this burden of wrong--seems to me frightful. No God to help one to be good now! no God who cares whether one is good or not! if a God, then one who will not give his creature time enough to grow good, even if he is growing better, but will blot him out like a rain-drop! Great God, forbid--if thou art. If thou art not, then this, like all other prayers, goes echoing through the soulless vaults of a waste universe, from the thought of which its peoples recoil in horror. Death, then, is genial, soul-begetting, and love-creating; and Life is nowhere, save in the imaginations of the children of the grave. Whence, then, oh! whence came those their imaginations? Death, thou art not my father! Grave, thou art not my mother! I come of another kind, nor shall ye usurp dominion over me."
What better sign of immortality than the raising of the dead could God give? He cannot, however, be always raising the dead before our eyes; for then the holiness of death's ends would be a failure. We need death; only it shall be undone once and again for a time, that we may know it is not what it seems to us. I have already said that probably we are not capable of being told in words what the other world is. But even the very report through the ages that the dead came back, as their friends had known them, with the old love unlost in the grave, with the same face to smile and bless, is precious indeed. That they remain the same in all that made them lovely, is the one priceless fact--if we may but hope in it as a fact. That we shall behold, and clasp, and love them again follows of simple necessity. We cannot be sure of the report as if it were done before our own eyes, yet what a hope it gives even to him whose honesty and his faith together make him, like Martha, refrain speech, not daring to say I believe of all that is reported! I think such a one will one day be able to believe more than he even knows how to desire. For faith in Jesus will well make up for the lack of the sight of the miracle.
Does God, then, make death look what it is not? Why not let it appear what it is, and prevent us from forming false judgments of it?
It is our low faithlessness that makes us misjudge it, and nothing but faith could make us judge it aright. And that, while in faithlessness, we should thus misjudge it, is well. In what it appears to us, it is a type of what we are without God. But there is no falsehood in it. The dust must go back to the dust. He who believes in the body more than in the soul, cleaves to this aspect of death: he who believes in thought, in mind, in love, in truth, can see the other side--can rejoice over the bursting shell which allows the young oak to creep from its kernel-prison. The lower is true, but the higher overcomes and absorbs it. "When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." When the spirit of death is seen, the body of death vanishes from us. Death is God's angel of birth. We fear him. The dying stretches out loving hands of hope towards him. I do not believe that death is to the dying the dreadful thing it looks to the beholders. I think it is more like what the spirit may then be able to remember of its own birth as a child into this lower world, this porch of the heavenly. How will he love his mother then! and all humanity in her, and God who gave her, and God who gives her back!
The future lies dark before us, with an infinite hope in the darkness. To be at peace concerning it on any other ground than the love of God, would be an absolute loss. Better fear and hope and prayer, than knowledge and peace without the prayer.
To sum up: An express revelation in words would probably be little intelligible. In Christ we have an ever-growing revelation. He is the resurrection and the life. As we know him we know our future.
In our ignorance lies a force of need, compelling us towards God.
In our ignorance likewise lies the room for the development of the simple will, as well as the necessity for arousing it. Hence this ignorance is but the shell of faith.
In this, as in all his miracles, our Lord shows in one instance what his Father is ever doing without showing it.
Even the report of this is the best news we can have from the other world--as we call it.