Expositions of Holy Scripture
Alexander Maclaren

Part 12 out of 12

saw, one of three. A touch of pity came into their hearts once or
twice, alternating to mockery, which was not savage because it was
simply brutal; but when it was all over, and they had pierced His
side, and gone away back to their barracks, they had not the least
notion that they, with their dim, purblind eyes, had been looking at
the most stupendous miracle in the whole world's history, had been
gazing at the thing into which angels desired to look; and had seen
that to which the hearts and the gratitude of unconverted millions
would turn for all eternity. They laid their heads down on their
pillows that night and did not know what had passed before their
eyes, and they shut the eyes that had served them so ill, and went
to sleep, unconscious that they had seen the pivot on which the
whole history of humanity had turned; and been the unmoved witnesses
of 'God manifest in the flesh,' dying on the cross for the whole
world, and for them. What should they have seen if they had seen the
reality? They should have seen not a dying rebel but a dying Christ;
they should have looked with emotion, they should have looked with
faith, they should have looked with thankfulness.

Any one who looks at that cross, and sees nothing but a pure and
perfect man dying upon it, is very nearly as blind as the Roman
legionaries. Any one to whom it is only an example of perfect
innocence and patient suffering has only seem an inch into the
Infinite; and the depths of it are as much concealed from him as
they were from them. Any one who looks with an unmoved heart,
without one thrill of gratitude, is nearly as blind as the rough
soldiers. He that looks and does not say--

'My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine;
While like a penitent I stand
And there confess my sin,'

has not learned more of the meaning of the Cross than they did. And
any one who looks to it, and then turns away and forgets, or who
looks at it and fails to recognise in it the law of his own life and
pattern for his own conduct, has yet to see more deeply into it
before he sees even such portion of its meaning as here we can

Oh! dear friends, we all of us, as the apostle says in one of his
letters, have had this Christ 'manifestly set forth before us as if
painted upon a placard upon a wall' (for that is the meaning of the
picturesque words that he employs). And if we look with calm,
unmoved hearts; if we look without personal appropriation of that
Cross and dying love to ourselves, and if we look without our hearts
going out in thankfulness and laying themselves at His feet in a
calm rapture of life-long devotion, then we need not wonder that
four ignorant heathen men sat and looked at Him for four long hours
and saw nothing, for we are as blind as ever they were.

You say, 'We see.' Do you see? Do you look? Does the look touch your
hearts? Have you fathomed the meaning of the fact? Is it to you the
sacrifice of the living Christ for your salvation? Is it to you the
death on which all your hopes rest? You say that you see. Do you see
that in it? Do you see your only ground of confidence and peace? And
do you so see that, like a man who has looked at the sun for a
moment or two, when you turn away your head you carry the image of
what you beheld still stamped on your eyeball, and have it both as a
memory and a present impression? So is the cross photographed on
your heart; and is it true about us that every day, and all days, we
behold our Saviour, and beholding Him are being changed into His
likeness? Is it true about us that we thus bear about with us in the
body 'the dying of the Lord Jesus'? If we look to Him with faith and
love, and make His Cross our own, and keep it ever in our memory,
ever before us as an inspiration and a hope and a joy and a pattern,
then we see. If not, 'for judgment am I come into the world, that
they which see not may see, and that they which see might be made
blind.' For what men are so blind to the infinite pathos and
tenderness, power, mystery, and miracle of the Cross, as the men and
women who all their lives long have heard a Gospel which has been
held up before their lack-lustre eyes, and have looked at it so long
that they cannot see it any more?

Let us pray that our eyes may be purged, that we may see, and seeing
may copy, that dying love of the ever-loving Lord.


'... The chief priests mocking Him ... said, 42. He
saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the
King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross,
and we will believe Him. 43. He trusted in God; let
Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him.'
--MATT. xxvii. 41-43.

It is an old saying that the corruption of the best is the worst.
What is more merciful and pitiful than true religion? What is more
merciless and malicious than hatred which calls itself 'religious'?
These priests, like many a persecutor for religion since, came to
feast their eyes on the long-drawn-out agonies of their Victim, and
their rank tongues blossomed into foul speech. Characteristically
enough, though they shared in the mockeries of the mob, they kept
themselves separate. The crowd pressed near enough to the cross to
speak their gibes _to_ Jesus; the dignified movers of the
ignorant crowd stood superciliously apart, and talked scoffingly
_about_ Him. Whilst the populace yelled, 'Thou that destroyest
the Temple and buildest it in three days, come down,' the chief
priests, with the scribes, looked at each other with a smile, and
said, '_He_ saved others; Himself _He_ cannot save.' Now,
these brutal taunts have lessons for us. They witness to the popular
impression of Christ, and what His claims were. He asserted Himself
to be a worker of miracles, the Messiah-King of Israel, the Son of God,
therefore He died. And they witness to the misconception which ruled
in the minds of these priests as to the relation of His claims to the
Cross. They thought that it had finally burst the bubble, and disposed
once for all of these absurd and blasphemous pretensions. Was it
credible that a man who possessed miraculous power should not, in
this supreme moment, use it to deliver Himself? Did not 'Physician,
heal Thyself,' come in properly there? Would any of the most besotted
followers of this pretender retain a rag of belief in His Messiahship
if He was crucified? Could it be possible that, if there was a God at
all, He should leave a man that really trusted in Him, not to say
who was really His Son, to die thus? A cracked mirror gives a distorted
image. The facts were seen, but their relation was twisted. If we will
take the guidance of these gibes, and see what is the real explanation
to the anomaly that they suggest, then we shall find that the taunts
turn to Him for a testimony, and that 'out of the mouths of mockers
there is 'perfected praise.' The stones flung at the Master turn to
roses strewed in His path.

I. So, then, first the Cross shows us the Saviour who could not save

The priests did not believe in Christ's miracles, and they thought
that this final token of his impotence, as they took it to be, was
clear proof that the miracles were either tricks or mistakes. They
saw the two things, they fatally misunderstood the relation between
them. Let us put the two things together.

Here, on the one hand, is a Man who has exercised absolute authority
in all the realms of the universe, who has spoken to dead matter,
and it has obeyed; who by His word has calmed the storm, and hushed
the winds by His word, has multiplied bread, has transmuted pale water
into ruddy wine; who has moved omnipotent amongst the disturbed minds
and diseased bodies of men, who has cast His sovereign word into the
depth and darkness of the grave, and brought out the dead, stumbling
and entangled in the grave-clothes. All these are facts on the one
side. And on the other there is this--that there, passive, and, to
superficial eyes, impotent, He hangs the helpless Victim of Roman
soldiers and of Jewish priests. The short and easy vulgar way to
solve the apparent contradiction was to deny the reality of the one
of its members; to say 'Miracles? Absurd! He never worked one, or He
would have been working one now.'

But let their error lead us into truth, and let us grasp the
relation of the two apparently contradictory facts. 'He saved
others,' that is certain. He did not 'save Himself,' that is
as certain. Was the explanation 'cannot'? The priests by 'cannot'
meant physical impossibility, defect of power, and they were
wrong. But there is a profound sense in which the word 'cannot'
is absolutely true. For this is in all time, and in all human
relations, the law of service--sacrifice; and no man can truly
help humanity, or an individual, unless he is prepared to
surrender himself in the service. The lamp burns away in giving
light. The fire consumes in warming the hearth, and no brotherly
sympathy or help has ever yet been rendered, or ever will be,
except at the price of self-surrender. Now, some people think
that this is the whole explanation of our Lord's history, both
in His life and in His death. I do not believe that it is the
whole explanation, but I do believe it carries us some way
towards the central sanctuary, where the explanation lies. And
yet it is not complete or adequate, because, to parallel Christ's
work with the work of any of the rest of us to our brethren,
however beautiful, disinterested, self-oblivious, and self-consuming
it may be, seems to me--I say it with deference, though I must here
remember considerations of brevity and be merely assertive--entirely
to ignore the unique special characteristic of the work of Jesus
Christ--viz., that it was the atonement for the sins of the world.
He could not bear away our sins, unless the burden of them was laid
on His own back, and He carried our griefs, our sorrows, our diseases,
and our transgressions. 'He saved others, Himself He cannot save.' But
the impossibility was purely the result of His own willing and obedient
love; or, if I put it in more epigrammatic form, the priests' 'cannot'
was partially true, but if they had said '_would not_' they would
have hit the mark, and come to full truth. The reason for His death
becomes clear, and each of the contrasted facts is enhanced, when we
set side by side the opulence and ease of His manifold miracles and
the apparent impotence and resourcelessness of the passive Victim on
the cross.

That 'cannot' did not come from defect of power, but from plenitude
of love, and it was a 'will not' in its deepest depths. For you will
find scattered throughout Scripture, especially these Gospels,
indications from our Lord's own lips, and by His own acts, that, in
the truest and fullest sense, His sufferings were voluntary. 'No man
taketh it from me'--He says about His life--'I have power to lay it
down, and I have power to take it again.' And once He did choose to
flash out for a moment the always present power, that we might learn
that when it did not appear, it was not because he could not, but
because he would not. When the soldiers came to lay their hands upon
Him, He presented Himself before them, saving them all the trouble
of search, and when He asked a question, and received the answer
that it was He of whom they were in search, there came one sudden
apocalypse of His majesty, and they fell to the ground, and lay
there prone before Him. They could have had no power at all against
Him, except He had willed to surrender Himself to them. Again,
though it is hypercritical perhaps to attach importance to what may
only be natural idiomatic forms of speech, yet in this connection it
is not to be overlooked that the language of all the Evangelists, in
describing the supreme moment of Christ's death, is congruous with
the idea that He died neither from the exhaustion of crucifixion,
nor from the thrust of the soldier's spear, but because He would.
For they all have expressions equivalent to that of one of them, 'He
gave up His spirit.' Be that as it may, the 'cannot' was a 'will
not'; and it was neither nails that fastened Him to the tree, nor
violence that slew Him, but He was fixed there by His own steadfast
will, and He died because He would. So if we rightly understand the
'cannot' we may take up with thankfulness the taunt which, as I say,
is tuned to a testimony, and reiterate adoringly, 'He saved others,
Himself He cannot save.'

II. The Cross shows us the King on His throne.

To the priests it appeared ludicrous to suppose that a King of
Israel should, by Israel, be nailed upon the cross. 'Let Him come
down, and we will believe Him.' They saw the two facts, they
misconceived their relation. There was a relation between them, and
it is not difficult for us to apprehend it.

The Cross is Christ's throne. There are two ways in which the
tragedy of His crucifixion is looked at in the Gospels, one that
prevails in the three first, another that prevails in the fourth.
These two seem superficially to be opposite; they are complementary.
It depends upon your station whether a point in the sky is your
_zenith_ or your _nadir_. Here it is your zenith; at the antipodes
it is the nadir. In the first three gospels the aspect of humiliation,
degradation, inanition, suffering, is prominent in the references to
the Crucifixion. In the _fourth_ gospel the aspect of glory and
triumph is uppermost. 'Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up'; 'I,
if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me'; 'Now the hour is come
that the Son of Man should be glorified.' And it _is_ His glory, for
on that Cross Jesus Christ manifests, in transcendent and superlative
form, at once power and love that are boundless and divine. The Cross
is the foundation of His kingdom. In his great passage in Philippians
the Apostle brings together, in the closest causal connection, His
obedience unto death, the death of the Cross, and His exaltation and
reception of 'the name that is above every name, that at the name of
Jesus every knee should bow.' The title over the Cross was meant for
a gibe. It was a prophecy. By the Cross He becomes the 'King,' and not
only the 'King of the Jews.' The sceptre that was put in His hand,
though it was meant for a sneer, was a forecast of a truth, for He
rules, not with a rod of iron, but with the reed of gentleness; and
the crown of thorns, that was pressed down on His wounded and
bleeding head, foretold for our faith the great truth that suffering is
the foundation of dominion, and that men will bow as to their King
and Lord before Him who died for them, with a prostration of spirit, a
loyalty of allegiance, and an alertness of service, which none
other, monarch or superior, may even dream of attaining. The Cross
establishes, not destroys, Christ's dominion over men.

Yes; and that Cross wins their faith as nothing else can. The blind
priests said, 'Let Him come down, and we will believe Him.'
Precisely because He did not come down, do sad and sorrowful and
sinful hearts turn to Him from the ends of the earth, and from the
distances of the ages pour the treasures of their trust and their
love at His feet. Did you ever think how strange it is, except with
one explanation, that the gibes of the priests did not turn out to
be true? Why is it that Christ's shameful death did not burst the
bubble, as they thought it had done? Why is it that in His case--and
I was going to say, and it would have been no exaggeration, in His
case only--the death of the leader did not result in the dispersion
of the led? Why is it that His fate and future were the opposite of
that of multitudes of other pseudo-Messiahs, of whom it is true that
when they were slain their followers came to nought? Why? There is
only one explanation, I think, and that is that the death was not
the end, but that He rose again from the dead. My brother, you will
either have to accept the Resurrection, with all that comes from it,
or else you will have to join the ranks of the priests, and consider
that Christ's death blew to atoms Christ's pretensions. If we know
anything about Him, we know that He asserted miraculous power,
Messiahship, and a filial relation to God. These things are facts.
Did He rise or did He not? If He did not, He was an enthusiast. If
He did, He is the King to whom our hearts can cleave, and to whom
our loyalty is due.

III. Now, lastly, the Cross shows us the Son, beloved of the Father.

The priests thought that it was altogether incredible that His
devotion should have been genuine, or His claim to be the Son of God
should have any reality, since the Cross, to their vulgar eyes,
disproved them both. Like all coarse-minded people, they estimated
character by condition, but they who do that make no end of
mistakes. They had forgotten their own Prophecies, which might have
told them that 'the Servant of the Lord in whom' His 'heart
delighted,' was a suffering Servant. But whilst they recognised the
facts, here again, as in the other two cases, they misconceived the
relation. We have the means of rectifying the distorted image.

We ought to know, and to be sure, that the Cross of Christ was the
very token that this was God's 'beloved Son in whom He was well
pleased.' If we dare venture on the comparison of parts of that
which is all homogeneous and perfect, we might say that in the
moment of His death Jesus Christ was more than ever the object of
the Father's delight.

Why? It is not my purpose now to enlarge upon all the reasons which
might be suggested. Let me put them together in a sentence or two.
In that Cross Jesus Christ revealed God as God's heart had always
yearned to be revealed, infinite in love, pitifulness, forbearance,
and pardoning mercy. There was the highest manifestation of the
glory of God. 'What?' you say, 'a poor weak Man, hanging on a cross,
and dying in the dark--is _that_ the very shining apex of all
that humanity can know of divinity?' Yes, for it is the pure
manifestation that God is Love. Therefore the whole sunshine of the
Father's presence rested on the dying Saviour. It was the hour when
God most delighted in Him, if I may venture the comparison, for the
other reasons that then He carried filial obedience to its utmost
perfection, that then His trust in God was deepest, even at the hour
when His spirit was darkened by the cloud that the world's sin,
which He was carrying, had spread thunderous between Him and the
sunshine of the Father's face. For in that mysterious voice, which
we can never understand in its depths, there were blended trust and
desolation, each in its highest degree: 'My God! my God! Why hast
Thou forsaken Me?' And the Cross was the complete carrying out of
God's dearest purpose for the world, that He might be 'just, and the
justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.' Therefore, then--I was
going to say as never before--was Christ His Son, in whom He

Brethren, let us, led by the errors of these scoffers, grasp the
truths that they pervert. Let us see that weak Man hanging helpless
on the cross, whose 'cannot' is the impotence of omnipotence,
imposed by His own loving will to save a world by the sacrifice of
Himself. Let us crown Him our King, and let our deepest trust and
our gladdest obedience be rendered to Him because He did not come
down from, but 'endured, the cross.' Let us behold with wonder, awe,
and endless love the Father not withholding His only Son, but
'delivering Him up to the death for us all,' and from the empty
grave and the occupied Throne let us learn how the Father by both
proclaims to all the world concerning Him hanging dying on the
cross: '_This_ is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'


'Behold, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from
the top to the bottom.'--MATT. xxvii. 51.

As I suppose we are all aware, the Jewish Temple was divided into
three parts: the Outer Court, open to all; the Holy Place, to which
the ministering priests had daily access to burn incense and trim
the lamps; and the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest was
permitted to go, and that but once a year, on the great Day of
Atonement. For the other three hundred and sixty-four days the
shrine lay silent, untrodden, dark. Between it and the less sacred
Holy Place hung the veil, whose heavy folds only one man was
permitted to lift or to pass. To all others it was death to peer
into the mysteries, and even to him, had he gone at another time,
and without the blood of the sacrifice, death would have ensued.

If we remember all this and try to cast ourselves back in
imagination to the mental attitude of the ordinary Jew, the incident
of my text receives its true interpretation. At the moment when the
loud cry of the dying Christ rung over the heads of the awestruck
multitude, that veil was, as it were, laid hold of by a pair of
giant hands and torn asunder, as the Evangelist says, 'from the top
to the bottom.' The incident was a symbol. In one aspect it
proclaimed the end of the long years of Israel's prerogative. In
another it ushered in an epoch of new relations between man and God.
If Jesus Christ was what He said He was, if His death was what He
declared it to be, it was fitting that it should be attended by a
train of subordinate and interpreting wonders. These were, besides
that of my text, the darkened sun, the trembling earth, the shivered
rocks, the open graves, the rising saints--all of them, in their
several ways, illuminating the significance of that death on

Not less significant is this symbol of my text, and I desire now to
draw your attention to its meanings.

I. The rent veil proclaims the desecrated temple.

There is a striking old legend, preserved by the somewhat mendacious
historian of the Jewish people, that, before Jerusalem fell, the
anxious watchers heard from within the sanctuary a great voice
saying, 'Let us depart hence!' and through the night were conscious
of the winnowing of the mighty wings of the withdrawing cherubim.
And soon a Roman soldier tossed a brand into the most Holy Place,
and the 'beautiful house where their fathers praised was burned with
fire.' The legend is pathetic and significant. But that 'departing'
had taken place forty years before; and at the moment when Jesus
'gave up the ghost,' purged eyes might have seen the long trail of
brightness as the winged servitors of the Most High withdrew from
the desecrated shrine. The veil rent declared that the sacred soil
within it was now common as any foot of earth in Galilee; and its
rending, so to speak, made way for a departing God.

That conception, that the death of Christ Jesus was the
_de-consecration_--if I may coin a word--of the Temple, and the end
of all its special sanctity, and that thenceforward the Presence had
departed from it, is distinctly enough taught us by Himself in words
which move in the same circle of ideas as that in which the symbol
resides.... You remember, no doubt, that, if we accept the testimony
of John's Gospel, at the very beginning of our Lord's ministry He
vindicated His authority to cleanse the sanctuary against the cavils
of the sticklers for propriety by the enigmatical words, 'Destroy
this Temple, and in three days I will build it up,' to which the
Evangelist appends the comment, 'He spake of the Temple of His
body,' that body in which 'all the fulness of the Godhead' dwelt,
and which was, and is to-day, all that the Temple shadowed and
foretold, the dwelling-place of God in humanity, the place of
sacrifice, the meeting-place between God and man. But just because
our Lord in these dark words predicted His death and His
resurrection, He also hinted the destruction of the literal stone
and lime building, and its rearing again in nobler and more
spiritual form. When He said, 'Destroy this Temple,' He implied,
secondarily, the destruction of the house in which He stood, and
laid that destruction, whensoever it should come to pass, at their
doors. And, inasmuch as the saying in its deepest depth meant His
death by their violence and craft, therefore, in that early saying
of His, was wrapped up the very same truth which was symbolised by
the rent veil, and was bitterly fulfilled at last. When they slew
Christ they killed the system under which they lived, and for which
they would have been glad to die, in a zeal without knowledge; and
destroyed the very Temple on the distorted charge of being the
destroyer of which, they handed Him over to the Roman power.

The death of Christ is, then, the desecration and the destruction of
that Temple. Of course it is; because when a nation that had had
millenniums of education, of forbearance, of revelation, turned at
last upon the very climax and brightest central light of all the
Revelation, standing there amongst them in a bodily form, there was
nothing more to be done. God had shot His last arrow; His quiver was
empty. 'Last of all He sent unto them His Son, saying,' with a
wistful kind of half-confidence, 'They will reverence My Son,' and
the divine expectation was disappointed, and exhaustless Love was
empty-handed, and all was over. He could turn to themselves and say,
'Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done
that I have not done to it?' Therefore, there was nothing left but
to let the angels of destruction loose, and to call for the Roman
eagles with their broad-spread wings, and their bloody beaks, and
their strong talons, to gather together round the carcase. When He
gave up the Ghost, 'the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from
the top to the bottom.'

A time of repentance was given. It was possible for the most guilty
participator in that judicial murder to have his gory hands washed
and made white in the very blood that he had shed; but, failing
repentance, that death was the death of Israel, and the destruction
of Israel's Temple. Let us take the lesson, dear brethren. If we
turn away from that Saviour, and refuse the offered gifts of His
love, there is no other appeal left in the power of Heaven; and
there is nothing for it after that except judgment and destruction.
We can 'crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame.'
And the hearts that are insensitive, as are some of our hearts, to
that great love and grace, are capable of nothing except to be
pulverised by means of a judgment. Repentance is possible for us
all, but, failing that, the continuance of rejection of Christ is
the pulling down, on our own heads, of the ruins of the Temple, like
the Israelitish hero in his blindness and despair.

II. Now, secondly, the rent veil means, in another way of looking at
the incident, light streaming in on the mystery of God.

Let me recall to your imaginations what lay behind that heavy veil.
In the Temple, in our Lord's time, there was no presence of the
Shekinah, the light that symbolised the divine presence. There was
the mercy-seat, with the outstretched wings of the cherubim; there
were the dimly pictured forms on the tapestry hangings; there was
silence deep as death; there was darkness absolute and utter, whilst
the Syrian sun was blazing down outside. Surely that is the symbol
of the imperfect knowledge or illumination as to the divine nature
which is over all the world. 'The veil is spread over all nations,
and the covering over all people.' And surely that sudden, sharp
tearing asunder of the obscuring medium, and letting the bright
sunlight stream into every corner of the dark chamber, is for us a
symbol of the great fact that in the life, and especially in the
death, of Jesus Christ our Lord, we have light thrown in to the
depths of God.

What does that Cross tell us about God that the world did not know?
And how does it tell us? and why does it tell us? It tells us of
absolute righteousness, of that in the divine nature which cannot
tolerate sin; of the stern law of retribution which must be wrought
out, and by which the wages of every sin is death. It tells us not
only of a divine righteousness which sees guilt and administers
punishment, but it tells us of a divine love, perfect, infinite,
utter, perennial, which shrinks from no sacrifice, which stoops to
the lowest conditions, which itself takes upon it all the miseries
of humanity, and which dies because it loves and will save men from
death. And as we look upon that dying Man hanging on the cross, the
very embodiment and consummation of weakness and of shame, we have
to say, 'Lo! this is our God! We have waited for Him'--through all
the weary centuries--'and He will save us.' How does it tell us all
this? Not by eloquent and gracious thoughts, not by sweet and
musical words, but by a deed. The only way by which we can know men
is by what they do. The only way by which we know God is by what He
does. And so we point to that Cross and say, 'There! not in words,
not in thoughts, not in speculations, not in hopes and fears and
peradventures and dim intuitions, but in a solid fact; there is the
Revelation which lays bare the heart of God, and shows us its very
throbbing of love to every human soul.' 'The veil was rent in twain
from the top to the bottom.'

The Cross will reveal God to you only if you believe that Jesus
Christ was the Incarnate Word. Brethren, if that death was but the
death of even the very holiest, noblest, sweetest, perfectest soul
that ever lived on earth and breathed human breath, there is no
revelation of God in it for us. It tells us what Jesus was, and by a
very roundabout inference may suggest something of what the divine
nature is, but unless you can say, as the New Testament says, 'In
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we
beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth,' I fail to see how the death of Christ can
be a revelation of the love of God.

I need not occupy time in dilating upon the contrast between this
solid certitude, and all that the world, apart from Jesus Christ,
has to lay hold of about God. We want something else than mist on
which to build, and on which to lay hold. And there is a
substantial, warm, flesh-and-blood hand, if I may so say, put out to
us through the mist when we believe in Christ the Son of God, who
died on the cross for us all. Then, amidst whirling mists and
tossing seas, there is a fixed point to which we can moor; then our
confidence is built, not on peradventures or speculations or wishes
or dreams or hopes, but on a historical fact, and grasping that firm
we may stand unmoved.

Dear friends, I may be very old-fashioned and very narrow--I suppose
I am; but I am bound to declare my conviction, which I think every
day's experience of the tendency of thought only makes more certain,
that, practically for this generation, the choice lies between
accepting the life and death of Jesus Christ as the historical
Revelation of God, or having no knowledge of Him--_knowledge_,
I say,--of Him at all; you must choose between the barred sanctuary,
within which lies couched a hidden Something--with a capital S--or
perhaps a hidden Someone whom you never can know and never will; or
the rent veil, rent by Christ's death, through which you can pass,
and behold the mercy-seat and, above the outstretched wings of the
adoring cherubim, the Father whose name is Love.

III. Lastly, the rent veil permits any and every man to draw near to

You remember what I have already said as to the jealous guarding of
the privacy of that inner shrine, and how not only the common herd
of the laity, but the whole of the priesthood, with the solitary
exception of its titular head, were shut out from ever entering it.
In the old times of Israel there was only one man alive at once who
had ever been beyond the veil. And now that it is rent, what does
that show but this, that by the death of Jesus Christ any one, every
one, is welcome to pass in to the very innermost sanctuary, and to
dwell, nestling as close as he will, to the very heart of the
throned God? There is a double veil, if I may so say, between man
and God: the side turned outward is woven by our own sins; and the
other turned inwards is made out of the necessary antagonism of the
divine nature to man's sin. There hangs the veil, and when the
Psalmist asked, 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord; or who
shall stand in His holy place?' he was putting a question which
echoes despairingly in the very heart of all religions. And he
answered it as conscience ever answers it when it gets fair play:
'He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up
his soul unto vanity.' And where or who is he? Nowhere; nobody.
Access is barred, because it is impossible that a holy and righteous
God should communicate the selectest gifts of His love, even the
sense of His favour, and of harmony and fellowship with Him, to
sinful men, and barred, because it is impossible that men, with the
consciousness of evil and the burden of guilt sometimes chafing
their shoulders, and always bowing down their backs, should desire
to possess, or be capable of possessing, that fellowship and union
with God. A black, frowning wall, if I may change the metaphor of my
text, rises between us and God. But One comes with the sacrificial
vessel in His hand, and pours His blood on the barrier, and that
melts the black blocks that rise between us and God, and the path is
patent and permeable for every foot. 'The veil of the Temple was
rent in twain' when Christ died. That death, because it is a
sacrifice, makes it possible that the whole fulness of the divine
love should be poured upon man. That death moves our hearts, takes
away our sense of guilt, draws us nearer to Him; and so both by its
operation--not on the love of God--but on the government of God, and
by its operation on the consciousness of men, throws open the path
into His very presence.

If I might use abstract words, I would say that Christ's death
potentially opens the path for every man, which being put into plain
English--which is better--is just that by the death of Christ every
man can, if he will, go to God, and live beside Him. And our faith
is our personal laying hold of that great sacrifice and treading on
that path. It turns the 'potentiality' into an actuality, the
possibility into a fact. If we believe on Him who died on the cross
for us all, then by that way we come to God, than which there is
none other given under heaven among men.

So all believers are priests, or none of them are. The absolute
right of direct access to God, without the intervention of any man
who has an officially greater nearness to Him than others, and
through whom as through a channel the grace of sacrament comes, is
contained in the great symbol of my text. And it is a truth that
this day needs. On the one hand there is agnostic unbelief, which
needs to see in the rent veil the illumination streaming through it
on to the depths of God; and on the other hand there is the
complementary error--and the two always breed each other--the
superstition which drags back by an anachronism the old Jewish
notions of priesthood into the Christian Church. It needs to see in
the rent veil the charter of universal priesthood for all believers,
and to hearken to the words which declare, 'Ye are a chosen
generation, a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, that ye should
offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ.'
That is the lesson that this day wants. 'Having, therefore,
brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest of all, by the blood of
Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us
through the veil, that is His flesh, let us draw near with true
hearts in full assurance of faith.'


'In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward
the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the
other Mary to see the sepulchre. 2. And, behold, there
was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord
descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the
stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3. His countenance
was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became
as dead men. 5. And the angel answered and said unto the
women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which
was crucified. 6. He is not here: for He is risen, as He
said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7. And go
quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from
the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee;
there shall ye see Him: lo, I have told you. 8. And they
departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great
joy; and did run to bring His disciples word. 9. And as
they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them,
saying, All hail. And they came and held Him by the
feet, and worshipped Him. 10. Then said Jesus unto them,
Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into
Galilee, and there shall they see Me. 11. Now, when
they were going, behold, some of the watch came into
the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the
things that were done. 12. And when they were assembled
with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large
money unto the soldiers, 13. Saying, Say ye, His
disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we
slept. 14. And if this come to the governor's ears, we
will persuade him, and secure you. 15. So they took the
money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is
commonly reported among the Jews until this day.'
--MATT. xxviii. 1-15.

The attempts at harmonising the resurrection narratives are not only
unsatisfactory, but they tend to blur the distinctive characteristics
of each account. We shall therefore confine ourselves entirely to
Matthew's version, and leave the others alone, with the simple
remark that a condensed report of a series of events does not deny
what it omits, nor contradict a fuller one. The peculiarities of
Matthew's last chapter are largely due to the purpose of his gospel.
Throughout, it has been the record of the Galilean ministry, the
picture of the King of Israel, and of His treatment by those who
should have been His subjects. This chapter establishes the fact of
His resurrection; but, passing by the Jerusalem appearances of the
risen Lord, as being granted to individuals and having less bearing
on His royalty, emphasises two points: His rejection by the
representatives of the nation, whose lie is endorsed by popular
acceptance; and the solemn assumption, in Galilee, so familiar to
the reader, of universal dominion, with the world-wide commission,
in which the kingdom bursts the narrow national limits and becomes
co-extensive with humanity. It is better to learn the meaning of
Matthew's selection of his incidents than to wipe out instructive
peculiarities in the vain attempt after harmony.

First, notice his silence (in which all the four narratives are
alike) as to the time and circumstances of the resurrection itself.
That had taken place before the grey twilight summoned the faithful
women, and before the earthquake and the angel's descent. No eye saw
Him rise. The guards were not asleep, for the statement that they
were is a lie put into their mouths by the rulers; but though they
kept jealous watch, His rising was invisible to them. 'The prison
was shut with all safety,' for the stone was rolled away after He
was risen, 'and the keepers standing before the doors,' but there
was 'no man within.' As in the evening of that day He appeared in
the closed chamber, so He passed from the sealed grave. Divine
decorum required that that transcendent act should be done without
mortal observers of the actual rising of the Sun which scatters for
ever the darkness of death.

Matthew next notices the angel ministrant and herald. His narrative
leaves the impression that the earthquake and appearance of the
angel immediately preceded the arrival of the women, and the
'Behold!' suggests that they felt and saw both. But that is a piece
of chronology on which there may be difference of opinion. The other
narratives tell of two angels. Matthew's mention of one only may be
due either to the fact that one was speaker, or to the subjective
impressions of his informant, who saw but the one, or to variation
in the number visible at different times. We know too little of the
laws which determine their appearances to be warranted in finding
contradiction or difficulty here. The power of seeing may depend on
the condition of the beholder. It may depend, not as with gross
material bodies, on optics, but on the volition of the radiant
beings seen. They may pass from visibility to its opposite, lightly
and repeatedly, flickering into and out of sight, as the Pleiades
seem to do. Where there is such store of possibilities, he is rash
who talks glibly about contradictions.

Of far more value is it to note the purpose served by this waiting
angel. We heard much of a herald angel of the Lord in the story of
the Nativity. We hear nothing of him during the life of Christ. Now
again he appears, as the stars, quenched in the noontide, shine
again when the sun is out of the sky. He attends as humble servitor,
in token that the highest beings gazed on that empty grave with
reverent adoration, and were honoured by being allowed to guard the
sacred place. Death was an undreaded thing to them, and no hopes for
themselves blossomed from Christ's grave; but He who had lain in it
was their King as well as ours, and new lessons of divine love were
taught them, as they wondered and watched. They come to minister by
act and word to the weeping women's faith and joy. Their appearance
paralyses the guards, who would have kept the Marys from the grave.
They roll away the great circular stone, which women's hands,
however nerved by love, could not have moved in its grooves. They
speak tender words to them. There by the empty tomb, the strong
heavenly and the weak earthly lovers of the risen King meet
together, and clasp hands of help, the pledge and first-fruits of
the standing order henceforth, and the inauguration of their office
of 'ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for ... heirs of
salvation.' The risen Christ hath made both one. The servants of the
same King must needs be friends of one another.

The angel's words fall into three parts. First, he calms fears by the
assurance that the seekers for Christ are dear to Him. 'Fear not _ye_'
glances at the prostrate watchers, and almost acknowledges the
reasonableness of their abject terror. To them he could not but be
hostile, but to hearts that longed for their and his Lord, he and all
his mighty fellows were brethren. Let us learn that all God's angels
are our lovers and helpers, if we love and seek for Jesus. Superstition
has peopled the gulf between God and man with crowds of beings;
revelation assures us that it is full of creatures who excel in strength.
Men have cowered before them, but 'whether they be thrones, or
dominions, or principalities, or powers,' our King was their Creator,
and is their Sovereign, and, if we serve Him, all these are on our
side. The true deliverer from superstitious terrors is the risen Christ.
Again, the angel announces in simplest words the glorious fact, 'He
is risen,' and helps them to receive it by a double way. He reminds
them of Christ's own words, which had seemed so mysterious and
had turned out so simple, so incredible, and now had proved so true.
He calls them with a smile of welcome to draw near, and with him to
look into the empty place. The invitation extends to us all, for the
one assurance of immortality; and the only answer to the despairing
question, 'If a man die, shall he live again?' which is solid enough
to resist the corrosion of modern doubt as of ancient ignorance, is
that empty grave, and the filled throne, which was its necessary
consequence. By it we measure the love that stooped so low, we
school our hearts to anticipate without dread or reluctance our own
lying down there, we fasten our faith on the risen Forerunner, and
rejoice in the triumphant assurance of a living Christ. If the
wonder of the women's stunned gaze is no more ours, our calm
acceptance of the familiar fact need be none the less glad, and our
estimate of its far-reaching results more complete than their tumult
of feeling permitted to them.

No wonder that, swiftly, new duty which was privilege followed on
the new, glad knowledge. It was emphatically 'a day of good
tidings,' and they could not hold their peace. A brief glance,
enough for certitude and joy, was permitted; and then, with urgent
haste, they are sent to be apostles to the Apostles. The possession
of the news of a risen Saviour binds the possessors to be its
preachers. Where it is received in any power, it will impel to
utterance. He who can keep silence has never felt, as he ought, the
worth of the word, nor realised the reason why he has seen the Cross
or the empty grave. 'He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall
ye see.' It was but two complete days and one night since Christ had
said to the disciples that He would rise again, and, as the Shepherd
of the scattered flock, go before them into Galilee. How long ago
since that saying it would seem! The reasons for Matthew's omission
of all the other appearances of our Lord in Jerusalem, with the
exception of the one which immediately follows, and for the stress
he lays on this rendezvous in their native Galilee, have already
been touched on, and need not detain us now.

The next point in the narrative is the glad interview with the risen
Jesus. The women had been at the grave but for a few moments. But
they lived more in these than in years of quiet. Time is very
elastic, and five minutes or five seconds may change a life. These
few moments changed a world. Haste, winged by fear which had no
torment, and by joy which found relief in swift movement, sent them
running, forgetful of conventional proprieties, towards the
awakening city. Probably Mary Magdalene had left them, as soon as
they saw the open grave, and had hurried back alone to tell the
tidings. And now the crowning joy and wonder comes. How simply it is
told!--the introductory 'Behold!' just hinting at the wonderfulness,
and perhaps at the suddenness, of our Lord's appearance, and the
rest being in the quietest and fewest words possible. Note the deep
significance of the name 'Jesus' here. The angel spoke of 'the
Lord,' but all the rest of the chapter speaks of 'Jesus.' The joy
and hope that flow from the Resurrection depend on the fact of His
humanity. He comes out of the grave, the same brother of our mortal
flesh as before. It was no phantom whose feet they clasped, and He
is not withdrawn from them by His mysterious experience. All through
the Resurrection histories and the narrative of the forty days, the
same emphasis attaches to the name, which culminates in the angel's
assurance at the Ascension, that 'this same Jesus,' in His true
humanity, who has gone up on high our Forerunner, shall come again
our Brother and our Judge. 'It is _Christ_ that died, yea
rather, that is risen again'; but that triumphant assurance loses
all its blessedness, unless we say too, '_Jesus_ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, and ... rose again the third day.'

Note, too, the calmness of His greeting. He uses the common form of
salutation, as if He had but been absent on some common occasion,
and met them in ordinary circumstances. He speaks out of His own
deep tranquillity, and desires to impart it to their agitated
spirits. He would calm their joy, that it may be the deeper, like
His own. If we may give any weight to the original meaning of the
formula of greeting which He employs, we may see blessed prophecy in
it. The lips of the risen Christ bid us all 'rejoice.' His
salutation is no empty wish, but a command which makes its own
fulfilment possible. If our hearts welcome Him, and our faith is
firm in His risen power and love, then He gives us a deep and
central gladness, which nothing

'That is at enmity with joy
Can utterly abolish or destroy.'

The rush to His feet, and the silent clasp of adoration, are
eloquent of a tumult of feeling most natural, and yet not without
turbid elements, which He does not wholly approve. We have not here
the prohibition of such a touch which was spoken to Mary, but we
have substantially the same substitution, by His command, of
practical service for mere emotion. That carries a lesson always in
season. We cannot love Christ too much, nor try to get too near Him,
to touch Him with the hand of our faith. But there have been modes
of religious emotion, represented by hymns and popular books, which
have not mingled reverence rightly with love, and have spoken of
Him, and of the emotions binding us to Him, in tones unwholesomely
like those belonging to earthly passion. But, apart from that, Jesus
taught these women, and us through them, that it is better to
proclaim His Resurrection than to lie at His feet; and that, however
sweet the blessedness which we find in Him may be, it is meant to
put a message into our lips, which others need. Our sight of Him
gives us something to say, and binds us to say it. It was a blessing
to the women to have work to do, in doing which their strained
emotions might subside. It was a blessing to the mournful company in
the upper room to have their hearts prepared for His coming by these
heralds. It was a wonderful token of His unchanged love, and an
answer to fears and doubts of how they might find Him, that He sends
the message to them as brethren.

In the hurry of that Easter morning, they had no time to ponder on
all that it had brought them. The Resurrection as the demonstration
of Christ's divinity and of the acceptance of His perfect sacrifice,
or as the pledge of their resurrection, or as the type of their
Christian life, was for future experience to grasp. For that day, it
was enough to pass from despair to joy, and to let the astounding
fact flood them with sunny hope.

We know the vast sweep of the consequences and consolations of it
far better than they did. There is no reason, in our distance from
it, for its diminishing either in magnitude, in certitude, or in
blessedness in our eyes. No fact in the history of the world stands
on such firm evidence as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No age of
the world ever needed to believe it more than this one does. It
becomes us all to grasp it for ourselves with an iron tenacity of
hold, and to echo, in the face of the materialisms and know-nothing
philosophy of this day, the old ringing confession, 'Now is Christ
risen from the dead!'

We need say little about the last point in this narrative--the
obstinate blindness of the rulers, and their transparent lie to
account for the empty grave. The guard reports to the rulers, not to
the governor, as they had been handed over by Pilate for special
service. But they were Roman soldiers, as appears from the danger
which the rulers provided against, that of their alleged crime
against military discipline, in sleeping at their post, coming to
his ears. The trumped-up story is too puerile to have taken in any
one who did not wish to believe it. How could they tell what
happened when they were asleep? How could such an operation as
forcing back a heavy stone, and exhuming a corpse, have been carried
on without waking them? How could such a timid set of people have
mustered up courage for such a bold act? What did they do it for?
Not to bury their Lord. He had been lovingly laid there by reverent
hands, and costly spices strewn upon the sacred limbs. The only
possible motive would be that the disciples might tell lies about
His resurrection. That hypothesis that the Resurrection was a
deliberately concocted falsehood has proved too strong for the
stomach of modern unbelief, and has been long abandoned, as it had
need to be. When figs grow on thistles, such characters as the early
Christians, martyrs, heroes, saints, will be produced by a system
which has a lie, known to be one, for its foundation. But the lame
story is significant in two ways. It confesses, by its desperate
attempt to turn the corner of the difficulty, that the great rock,
on which all denials of Christ's resurrection split, is the simple
question--If He did not rise again, what became of the body? The
priests' answer is absurd, but it, at all events, acknowledges that
the grave was empty, and that it is incumbent to produce an
explanation which reasonable men can accept without laughter.

Further, this last appearance of the rulers in the gospel is full of
tragic significance, and is especially important to Matthew, whose
narrative deals especially with Jesus as the King and Messiah of
Israel. This is the end of centuries of prophecy and patience! This
is what all God's culture of His vineyard has come to! The
husbandmen cast the Heir out of the vineyard, and slew him. But
there was a deeper depth than even that. They would not be persuaded
when He rose again from the dead. They entrenched themselves in a
lie, which only showed that they had a glimmering of the truth and
hated it. And the lie was willingly swallowed by the mass of the
nation, who thereby showed that they were of the same stuff as they
who made it. A conspiracy of falsehood, which knew itself to be
such, was the last act of that august council of Israel. It is an
awful lesson of the penalties of unfaithfulness to the light
possessed, an awful instance of 'judicial blindness.' So sets the
sun of Israel. And therefore Matthew's Gospel turns away from the
apostate nation, which has rejected its King, to tell, in its last
words, of His assumption of universal dominion, and of the passage
of the glad news from Israel to the world.


'And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus
met them, saying, All hail.'--MATT. xxviii. 9.

'Then the same day at evening ... came Jesus and stood
in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.'
--JOHN xx. 19.

So did our Lord greet His sad followers. The first of these
salutations was addressed to the women as they hurried in the
morning from the empty tomb bewildered; the second to the disciples
assembled in the upper room in the evening of the same day. Both are
ordinary greetings. The first is that usual in Greek, and literally
means 'Rejoice'; the second is that common in Hebrew. The divergence
between the two may be owing to the Evangelist Matthew having
rendered the words which our Lord actually did speak, in the tongue
familiar to His time, into their equivalent Greek. But whatever
account may be given of the divergence does not materially affect
the significance which I find in the salutations. And I desire to
turn to them for a few moments now, because I think that, if we
ponder them, we may gain some precious lessons from these Easter
greetings of the Lord Himself.

I. First, then, notice their strange and majestic simplicity.

He meets His followers after Calvary and the Tomb and the
Resurrection, with the same words with which two casual
acquaintances, after some slight absence, might salute one another
by the way. Their very simplicity is their sublimity here. For think
of what tremendous experiences He had passed through since they saw
Him last, and of what a rush of rapture and disturbance of joy shook
the minds of the disciples, and then estimate the calm and calming
power of that matter-of-fact and simple greeting. It bears upon its
very front the mark of truth. Would anybody have imagined the scene
so? There have been one or two great poets who might conceivably
have risen to the height of putting such words under such
circumstances into the mouths of creatures of their own imagination.
Analogous instances of the utmost simplicity of expression in
moments of intense feeling may be quoted from Aschylus or
Shakespeare, and are regarded as the high-water marks of genius. But
does any one suppose that these evangelists were exceptionally
gifted souls of that sort, or that they could have imagined anything
like this--so strange in its calm, so unnatural at first sight, and
yet vindicating itself as so profoundly natural and sublime--unless
for the simple reason that they had heard it themselves, or been
told it by credible witnesses? Neither the delicate pencil of the
great dramatic genius nor the coarser brush of legend can have drawn
such an incident as this, and it seems to me that the only
reasonable explanation of it is that these greetings are what He
really did say.

For, as I have remarked, unnatural as it seems at first sight, if
we think for a moment, the very simplicity and calm, and, I was
going to say, the _matter-of-factness_, of such a greeting, as
the first that escaped from lips that had passed through death and
yet were red and vocal, is congruous with the deepest truths of
His nature. He has come from that tremendous conflict, and He
reappears, not flushed with triumph, nor bearing any trace of effort,
but surrounded as by a nimbus with that strange tranquillity which
evermore enwrapped Him. So small does the awful scene which He has
passed through seem to this divine-human Man, and so utterly are
the old ties and bonds unaffected by it, that when He meets His
followers, all He has to say to them as His first greeting is,
'Peace be unto you!'--the well-worn salutation that was bandied to
and fro in every market-place and scene where men were wont to meet.
Thus He indicates the divine tranquillity of His nature; thus He
minimises the fact of death; thus He reduces it to its true
insignificance as a parenthesis across which may pass unaffected all
sweet familiarities and loving friendships; thus He reknits the
broken ties, and, though the form of their intercourse is hereafter
to be profoundly modified, the substance of it remains, whereof He
giveth assurance unto them in these His first words from the dead. So,
as to a man standing on some mountain plateau, the deep gorges which
seam it become invisible, and the unbroken level runs right on. So,
there are a marvellous proof of the majesty and tranquillity of the
divine Man, a glorious manifestation of His superiority over death;
a blessed assurance of the reknitting of all ancient ties, after it
as before it, coming to us from pondering on the trivial words--trivial
from other lips, but profoundly significant on His--wherewith He
greeted His servants when He rose again from the dead.

II. Then note, secondly, the universal destination of the greetings
of the risen Lord.

I have said that it is possibly a mere accident that we should have
the two forms of salutation preserved for us here; and that it is
quite conceivable that our Lord really spoke but one, which has been
preserved unaltered from its Hebrew or Aramaic original in John, and
rendered by its Greek equivalent by the Evangelist Matthew.

But be that as it may, I cannot help feeling that in this fact, that
the one salutation is the common greeting among Greek-speaking peoples,
and the other the common greeting amongst Easterns, we may permissibly
find the thought of the universal aspect of the gifts and greetings of
the risen Christ. He comes to all men, and each man hears Him, 'in his
own tongue wherein he was born,' breathing forth to him greetings
which are promises, and promises which are gifts. Just as the mocking
inscription on the Cross proclaimed, in 'Hebrew and Greek and Latin,'
the three tongues known to its readers, the one kingdom of the
crucified King--so in the greetings from the grave, the one declares
that, to all the desires of eager, ardent, sensuous, joy-loving
Westerns, and all the aspirations of repose-loving Easterns, who had
had bitter experience of the pangs and pains of a state of warfare,
Jesus Christ is ready to respond and to bring answering gifts.
Whatsoever any community or individual has conceived as its highest
ideal of blessedness and of good, that the risen Christ hath in His
hands to bestow. He takes men's ideals of blessedness, and deepens
and purifies and refines them.

The Greek notion of joy as being the good to be most wished for
those dear to us, is but a shallow one. They had to learn, and their
philosophy and their poetry and their art came to corruption because
they would not learn, that the corn of wheat must be cast into the
ground and die before it bring forth fruit. They knew little of the
blessing and meaning of sorrow, and therefore the false glitter
passed away, and the pursuit of the ideal became gross and foul and
sensuous. And, on the other hand, the Jew, with his longing for
peace, had an equally shallow and unworthy conception of what it
meant, and what was needed to produce it. If he had only external
concord with men, and a competency of outward good within his reach
without too much trouble, he thought that because he 'had much goods
laid up for many years' he might 'take his ease; and eat, and drink,
and be merry.' But Jesus Christ comes to satisfy both aspirations by
contradicting both, and to reveal to Greek and Jew how much deeper
and diviner was his desire than he dreamed it to be; and, therefore,
how impossible it was to find the joy that would last, in the
dancing fireflies of external satisfactions or the delights of art
and beauty; and how impossible it was to find the repose that
ennobled and was wedded to action, in anything short of union with

The Lord Christ comes out of the grave in which He lay for every
man, and brings to each man's door, in a dialect intelligible to the
man himself, the satisfaction of the single soul's aspirations and
ideals, as well as of the national desires. His gifts and greetings
are of universal destination, meant for us all and adapted for us

III. Then, thirdly, notice the unfailing efficacy of the Lord's

Look at these people to whom He spoke. Remember what they were
between the Friday and the Sunday morning; utterly cowed and beaten,
the women, in accordance with the feminine nature, apparently more
deeply touched by the personal loss of the Friend and Comforter; and
the men apparently, whilst sharing that sorrow, also touched by
despair at the going to water of all the hopes that they had been
building upon His official character and position. 'We trusted that
it had been He which should have redeemed Israel,' they said, 'as
they walked and were sad.' They were on the point of parting. The
Keystone withdrawn, the stones were ready to fall apart. Then came
_something_--let us leave a blank for a moment--then came
_something_; and those who had been cowards, dissolved in
sorrow and relaxed by despair, in eight-and-forty hours became
heroes. From that time, when, by all reasonable logic and common
sense applied to men's motives, the Crucifixion should have crushed
their dreams and dissolved their society, a precisely opposite
effect ensues, and not only did the Church continue, but the men
changed their characters, and became, somehow or other, full of
these very two things which Christ wished for them--namely, joy and

Now I want to know--what bridges that gulf? How do you get the Peter
of the Acts of the Apostles out of the Peter of the Gospels? Is
there any way of explaining that revolution of character, whilst yet
its broad outlines remain identical, which befell him and all of
them, except the old-fashioned one that the _something_ which
came in between was the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the
consequent gift of joy and peace in Him, a joy that no troubles or
persecutions could shake, a peace that no conflicts could for a
moment disturb? It seems to me that every theory of Christianity
which boggles at accepting the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a
plain fact, is shattered to pieces on the sharp-pointed rock of this
one demand--'Very well! If it is not a fact, account for the
existence of the Church, and for the change in the characters of its
members.' You may wriggle as you like, but you will never get a
reasonable theory of these two undeniable facts until you believe
that He rose from the dead. In His right hand He carried peace, and
in His left joy. He gave these to them, and therefore 'out of
weakness they were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to
flight the armies of the aliens,' and when the time came, 'were
tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better
resurrection.' There is omnipotent efficacy in Christ's greetings.

The one instance opens up the general law, that His wishes are
gifts, that all His words are acts, that He speaks and it is done,
and that when He desires for us joy, it is a deed of conveyance and
gift, and invests us with the joy that He desires if we observe the

Christ's wishes are omnipotent, ours are powerless. We wish for our
friends many good things, and the event turns wishes to mockery, and
the garlands which we prepared for their birthdays have sometimes to
be hung on their tombs. The limitations of human friendship and of
our deepest and sincerest wishes, like a dark background, enhance
the boundless efficacy of the greetings of the Master, which are not
only wishes but bestowments of the thing wished, and therein given,
by Him.

IV. So, lastly, notice our share in this twofold greeting.

When it was first heard, I suppose that the disciples and the women
apprehended the salutation only in its most outward form, and that
all other thoughts were lost in the mere rapture of the sudden
change from the desolate sense of loss to the glad consciousness of
renewed possession. When the women clung to His feet on that Easter
morning, they had no thought of anything but--'we clasp Thee again,
O Soul of our souls.' But then, as time went on, the meaning and
blessedness and far-reaching issues of the Resurrection became more
plain to them. And I think we can see traces of the process, in the
development of Christian teaching as presented in the Acts of the
Apostles and in the Epistles. Peter in his early sermons dwells on
the Resurrection all but exclusively from one point of view--viz.,
as being the great proof of Christ's Messiahship. Then there came by
degrees, as is represented in the same Peter's letter, and
abundantly in the Apostle Paul's, the recognition of the light which
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ threw upon immortality; as a
prophecy and a pattern thereof. Then, when the historical fact had
become fully accepted and universally diffused, and its bearings
upon men's future had been as fully apprehended as is possible here,
there came, finally, the thought that the Resurrection of Jesus
Christ was the symbol of the new life, which from that risen Lord
passed into all those who loved and trusted Him.

Now, in all these three aspects--as proof of Messiahship, as the
pattern and prophecy of immortality, and as the symbol of the better
life which is accessible for us, here and now--the Resurrection of
Jesus Christ stands for us even more truly than for the rapturous
women who caught His feet, or for the thankful men who looked upon
Him in the upper chamber, as the source of peace and of joy.

For, dear brethren, therein is set forth for us the Christ whose
work is thereby declared to be finished and acceptable to God, and
all sorrow of sin, all guilt, all disturbance of heart and mind by
reason of evil passions and burning memories of former iniquity, and
all disturbance of our concord with God, are at once and for ever
swept away. If Jesus Christ was 'declared to be the Son of God with
power by His Resurrection from the dead,' and if in that
Resurrection, as is most surely the case, the broad seal of the
divine acceptance is set to the charter of our forgiveness and
sonship by the blood of the Cross, then joy and peace come to us
from Him and from it.

Again, the resurrection of Jesus Christ sets Him forth before us as
the pattern and the prophecy of immortal life. This Samson has taken
the gates of the prison-house on His broad shoulders and carried
them away, and now no man is kept imprisoned evermore in that
darkness. The earthquake has opened the doors and loosened every
man's bonds. Jesus Christ hath risen from the dead, and therein not
only demonstrated the certainty that life subsists through death,
and that a bodily life is possible thereafter, but hath set before
all those who give the keeping of their souls into His hands the
glorious belief that 'the body of their humiliation shall be'
'changed into the likeness of the body of His glory, according to
the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto
Himself.' Therefore the sorrows of death, for ourselves and for our
dear ones, the agitation which it causes, and all its darkness into
which we shrink from passing, are swept away when He comes forth
from the grave, serene, radiant, and victorious, to die no more, but
to dispense amongst us His peace and His joy.

And, again, the risen Christ is the source of a new life drawn from
Him and received into the heart by faith in His sacrifice and
Resurrection and glory. And if I have, deep-seated in my soul,
though it may be in imperfect maturity, that life which is hid with
Christ in God, an inward fountain of gladness, far better than the
effervescent, and therefore soon flat, waters of Greek or earthly
joy, is mine; and in my inmost being dwells a depth of calm peace
which no outward disturbance can touch, any more than the winds that
rave along the surface of the ocean affect its unmoved and unsounded
abysses. Jesus Christ comes to thee, my brother, weary, distracted,
care-laden, sin-laden, sorrowful and fearful. And He says to each of
us from the throne what He said in the upper room before the Cross,
and on leaving the grave after it, 'My joy will remain in you, and
your joy shall be full. My peace I leave to you, My peace I give
unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.'


'Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into
a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17. And when
they saw Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted.'
--MATT. xxviii. 16, 17.

'After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren
at once.'--1 COR. xv. 4

To infer an historian's ignorance from his silence is a short and
easy, but a rash, method. Matthew has nothing to say of our Lord's
appearances in Jerusalem, except in regard to that of the women in
the early morning of Easter Day. But it does not follow that he was
ignorant of these appearances. Imperfect knowledge may be the
explanation; but the scope and design of his Gospel is much more
likely to be so. It is emphatically the Gospel of the King of
Israel, and it moves, with the exception of the story of the
Passion, wholly within the limits of the Galilean ministry. What
more probable than that the same motive which induced Jesus to
select the mountain which He had appointed as the scene of this
meeting should have induced the Evangelist to pass by all the other
manifestations in order to fix upon this one? It was fitting that in
Galilee, where He had walked in lowly gentleness, 'kindly with His
kind,' He should assume His sovereign authority. It was fitting that
in 'Galilee of the Gentiles,' that outlying and despised province,
half heathen in the eyes of the narrow-minded Pharisaic Jerusalem,
He should proclaim the widening of His kingdom from Israel to all

If we had Matthew's words only, we should suppose that none but the
eleven were present on this occasion. But it is obviously the same
incident to which Paul refers when he speaks of the appearance to
'five hundred brethren at once.' These were the Galilean disciples
who had been faithful in the days of His lowliness, and were thus
now assembled to hear His proclamation of exaltation. Apparently the
meeting had been arranged beforehand. They came without Him to 'the
mountain where Jesus had appointed.' Probably it was the same spot
on which the so-called Sermon on the Mount, the first proclamation
of the King, had been delivered, and it was naturally chosen to be
the scene of a yet more exalted proclamation. A thousand tender
memories and associations clustered round the spot. So we have to
think of the five hundred gathered in eager expectancy; and we
notice how unlike the manner of His coming is to that of the former
manifestations. _Then_, suddenly, He became visibly present
where a moment before He had been unseen. But _now_ He gradually
approaches, for the doubting and the worshipping took place 'when
they saw Him,' and before 'He came to them.' I suppose we may
conceive of Him as coming down the hill and drawing near to them,
and then, when He stands above them, and yet close to them--else the
five hundred could not have seen Him 'at once'--doubts vanish; and
they listen with silent awe and love. The words are majestic; all is
regal. There is no veiled personality now, as there had been to Mary,
and to the two on the road to Emmaus. There is no greeting now, as
there had been in the upper chamber; no affording of a demonstration
of the reality of His appearance, as there had been to Thomas and to
the others. He stands amongst them as the King, and the music of His
words, deep as the roll of thunder, and sweet as harpers harping with
their harps, makes all comment or paraphrase sound thin and poor. But
yet so many great and precious lessons are hived in the words that we
must reverently ponder them. The material is so abundant that I can
but touch it in the slightest possible fashion. This great utterance
of our Lord's falls into three parts: a great claim, a great commission,
a great promise.

I. There is a Great Claim.

'All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.' No words can
more absolutely express unconditional, unlimited authority and
sovereignty. Mark the variety of the gift--'all power'; every kind
of force, every kind of dominion is in His hands. Mark the sphere of
sovereignty--'in heaven and in earth.' Now, brethren, if we know
anything about Jesus Christ, we know that He made this claim. There
is no reason, except the unwillingness of some people to admit that
claim, for casting any sort of doubt upon these words, or making any
distinction in authority between them and the rest of the words of
graciousness which the whole world has taken to its heart. But if He
said this, what becomes of His right to the veneration of mankind,
as the Perfect Example of the self-sacrificing, self-oblivious
religious life? It is a mystery that I cannot solve, how any man can
keep his reverence for Jesus, and refuse to believe that beneath
these tremendous words there lies a solemn and solid reality.

Notice, too, that there is implied a definite point of time at which
this all-embracing authority was given. You will find in the Revised
Version a small alteration in the reading, which makes a great
difference in the sense. It reads, 'All power _has been_ given';
and that points, as I say, to a definite period. _When_ was it
given? Let another portion of Scripture answer the question--'Declared
to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead.'
_Then_ to the Man Jesus was given authority over heaven and earth.
All the early Christian documents concur in this view of the connection
between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His investiture
with this sovereign power. Hearken to Paul, 'Became obedient unto
death, even the death of the Cross; wherefore God also hath highly
exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name.' Hearken
to Peter, 'Who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory.' Hearken
to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'We see Jesus crowned
with glory and honour for the suffering of death.' Hearken to John,
'To Him that is the Faithful Witness, and the First-born from the
dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.' Look with his
eyes to the vision of the 'Lamb as it had been slain,' enthroned
in the midst of the throne, and say whether this unanimous consent
of the earliest Christian teachers is explicable on any reasonable
grounds, unless there had been underlying it just the words of our
text, and the Master Himself had taught them that all power was
given to Him in heaven and in earth. As it seems to me impossible
to account for the existence of the Church if we deny the
Resurrection, so it seems to me impossible to account for the faith
of the earliest stratum of the Christian Church without the
acceptance of some such declaration as this, as having come from the
Lord Himself. And so the hands that were pierced with the nails wield
the sceptre of the Universe, and on the brows that were wounded and
bleeding with the crown of thorns are wreathed the many crowns of
universal Kinghood.

But we have further to notice that in this investiture, with 'all
power in heaven and on earth,' we have not merely the attestation of
the perfection of His obedience, the completeness of His work, and
the power of His sacrifice, but that we have also the elevation of
Manhood to enthronement with Divinity. For the _new_ thing that
came to Jesus after His resurrection was that His humanity was taken
into, and became participant of, 'the glory which I had with Thee,
before the world was.' Then our nature, when perfect and sinless, is
so cognate and kindred with the Divine that humanity is capable of
being invested with, and bearing, that 'exceeding and eternal weight
of glory.' In that elevation of the Man Christ Jesus, we may read a
prophecy, that shall not be unfulfilled, of the destiny of all those
who conform to Him through faith, love, and obedience, finally to
sit down with Him on His throne, even as He is set down with the
Father on His throne.

Ah! brethren, Christianity has dark and low views of human nature,
and men say they are too low and too dark. It is 'Nature's sternest
painter,' and, therefore, 'its best.' But if on its palette the
blacks are blacker than anywhere else, its range of colour is
greater, and its white is more lustrous. No system thinks so
condemnatorily of human nature as it is; none thinks so glowingly of
human nature as it may become. There are bass notes far down beyond
the limits of the scale to which ears dulled by the world and sin
and sorrow are sensitive; and there are clear, high tones, thrilling
and shrilling far above the range of perception of such ears. The
man that is in the lowest depths may rise with Jesus to the highest,
but it must be by the same road by which the Master went. 'If we
suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him,' and only 'if.' There
is no other path to the Throne but the Cross. _Via crucis, via
lucis_--the way of the Cross is the way of light. It is to those
who have accepted their Gethsemanes and their Calvarys that He
appoints a kingdom, as His Father has appointed unto Him.

So much, then, for the first point here in these words; turn now to
the second.

II. The Great Commission.

One might have expected that the immediate inference to be drawn from
'All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth' would have been
some word of encouragement and strengthening to those who were so soon
to be left, and who were beginning to be conscious of their feebleness.
But there is nothing more striking in the whole of the incidents of
those forty days than the prominence which is given in them to the
work of the Church when the Master had left it, and to the imperative
obligations devolving upon it. And so here, not encouragement, but
obligation is the inference that is drawn from that tremendous claim.
'Because I have all power, therefore you are charged with the duty
of winning the world for its King.' The all-ruling Christ calls for
the universal proclamation of His sovereignty by His disciples. These
five hundred little understood the sweep of the commandment, and, as
history shows, terribly failed to apprehend the emancipating power
of it. But He says to us, as to them, 'I am not content with the
authority given to Me by God, unless I have the authority that each
man for himself can give Me, by willing surrender of his heart and
will to Me.' Jesus Christ craves no empty rule, no mere elevation
by virtue of Divine supremacy, over men. He regards that elevation
as incomplete without the voluntary surrender of men to become His
subjects and champions. Without its own consent He does not count
that His universal power is established in a human heart. Though
that dominion be all-embracing like the ocean, and stretching into
all corners of the universe, and dominating over all ages, yet in
that ocean there may stand up black and dry rocks, barren as they
are dry, and blasted as they are black, because, with the awful
power of a human will, men have said, 'We will not have this Man
to reign over us.' It is willing subjects whom Christ seeks, in
order to make the Divine grant of authority a reality.

In that work He needs His servants. The gift of God notwithstanding,
the power of His Cross notwithstanding, the perfection and
completeness of His great reconciling and redeeming work
notwithstanding, all these are vain unless we, His servants, will
take them in our hands as our weapons, and go forth on the warfare
to which He has summoned us. This is the command laid upon us all,
'Make disciples of all nations.' Only so will the reality correspond
to the initial and all-embracing grant.

It would take us too far to deal at all adequately, or in anything
but the most superficial fashion, with the remaining parts of this
great commission. 'Make disciples of all nations'--that is the first
thing. Then comes the second step: 'Baptizing them into the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' Who are to be
baptized? Now, notice, if I may venture upon being slightly
technical for a moment, that the word 'nations' in the preceding
clause is a neuter one, and that the word for 'them' in this clause
is a masculine, which seems to me fairly to imply that the command
'baptizing them' does not refer to 'all nations,' but to the
disciples latent among them, and to be drawn from them. Surely,
surely the great claim of absolute and unbounded power has for its
consequence something better than the lame and impotent conclusion
of appointing an indiscriminate rite, as the means of making
disciples! Surely that is not in accordance with the spirituality of
the Christian faith!

'Baptizing them into the Name'--the name is one, that of the Father,
and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Does that mean the name of God,
and of a man, and of an influence, all jumbled up together in
blasphemous and irrational union? Surely, if Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit have one name, the name of Divinity, then it is but a step to
say that three Persons are one God! But there is a great deal more
here than a baptismal formula, for to be baptized into the Name is
but the symbol of being plunged into communion with this one
threefold God of our salvation. The ideal state of the Christian
disciple is that he shall be as a vase dropped into the Atlantic,
encompassed about with God, and filled with Him. We all 'live, and
move, and have our being' in Him, but some of us have so wrapped
ourselves, if I may venture to use such a figure, in waterproof
covering, that, though we are floating in an ocean of Divinity, not
a drop finds its way in. Cast the covering aside, and you will be
saturated with God, and only in the measure in which you live and
move and have your being in the Name are you disciples.

There is another step still. Making disciples and bringing into
communion with the Godhead is not all that is to flow from, and
correspond to, and realise in the individual, the absolute authority
of Jesus Christ--'Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I
have commanded you.' We hear a great deal in these days about the
worthlessness of mere dogmatic Christianity. Jesus Christ
anticipated all that talk, and guarded it from exaggeration. For
what He tells us here that we are to train ourselves and others in,
is not creed but conduct; not things to be believed or _credenda_
but things to be done or _agenda_--'teaching them to observe all
things whatsoever I have commanded you.' A creed that is not wrought
out in actions is empty; conduct that is not informed, penetrated,
regulated by creed, is unworthy of a man, not to say of a Christian.
What we are to know we are to know in order that we may do, and so
inherit the benediction, which is never bestowed upon them that
know, but upon them that, knowing these things, are blessed _in_,
as well as _for_, the doing of them.

That training is to be continuous, educating to new views of duty;
new applications of old truths, new sensitiveness of conscience,
unveiling to us, ever as we climb, new heights to which we aspire.
The Christian Church has not yet learnt--thank God it is learning,
though by slow degrees--all the moral and practical implications and
applications of 'the truth as it is in Jesus.' And so these are the
three things by which the Church recognises and corresponds to the
universal dominion of Christ, the making disciples universally; the
bringing them into the communion of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit; and the training of them to conduct ever approximating
more and more to the Divine ideal of humanity in the glorified

And now I must gather just into a sentence or two what is to be said
about the last point. There is--

III. The Great Promise.

'I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,' or, as it
might be read, 'with you all the days, even to the accomplishment of
the age.' Note that emphatic 'I am,' which does not only denote
certainty, but is the speech of Him who is lifted above the lower
regions where Time rolls and the succession of events occurs. That
'I am' covers all the varieties of _was, is, will be_. Notice
the long vista of variously tinted days which opens here. Howsoever
many they be, howsoever different their complexion, days of summer
and days of winter, days of sunshine and days of storm, days of
buoyant youth and days of stagnant, stereotyped old age, days of
apparent failure and days of apparent prosperity, He is with us in
them all. They change, He is 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and
for ever.' Notice the illimitable extent of the promise--'even unto
the end.' We are always tempted to think that long ago the earth was
more full of God than it is to-day, and that away forward in the
future it will again be fuller, but that this moment is comparatively
empty. The heavens touch the earth on the horizon in front and behind,
and they are highest and remotest above us just where we stand. But
no past day had more of Christ in it than to-day has, and that He
has gone away is the condition of His coming. 'He therefore departed
for a season, that we might receive Him for ever.'

But mark that the promise comes after a command, and is contingent,
for all its blessedness and power, upon our obedience to the
prescribed duty. That duty is primarily to make disciples of all
nations, and the discharge of it is so closely connected with the
realisation of the promise that a non-missionary Church never has
much of Christ's presence. But obedience to all the King's commands
is required if we stand before Him, and are to enjoy His smile. If
you wish to keep Christ very near you, and to feel Him with you, the
way to do so is no mere cultivation of religious emotion, or
saturating your mind with religious books and thoughts, though these
have their place; but on the dusty road of life doing His will and
keeping His commandments. 'If a man love Me he will keep My words,
and My Father will love Him. We will come to Him, and make our abode
with Him.'


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