The Immortality of Fellowship

Job 14:14.---' If a man die, shall he live again?' John 14:19.---' Because I live, ye shall live also.'

In many pagan religions the conception of the future life filled a great space; in some it absorbed the attention of the worshippers to the exclusion of everything else. Why was it, then that both natural religion and speculative philosophy proved ineffective in their treatment of the future and of man's relation to it? Why do we prize even the Old Testament, in which the hope of immortality, to say the least, is so inconspicuous, above other religious authorities in which it figures so much more prominently? The reason is plain. These religious and philosophies failed because they lacked the one thing from which faith in immortality could securely and healthily spring-a true conception of God, and of man and his relation to God. It is quite true to say that Israel had hardly any ideas about the future, and shrank in horror from those it had; but Israel had God, and that was everything. Israel knew that God had made man in His own image, capable of communion with Him, and blest only in such communion. To Israel, to see good was all one with to see God; with God was the fountain of life, in God's light His people saw light. This faith in God was greater than Israel knew; it could not be explored and exhausted in a day; it had treasures stored up in it that only centuries of experience could disclose, and among them was the hope of immortality. The believing nation of Israel, unconsciously carried the key of promise in its bosom, even when it was in the dungeon of Giant Despair.

The great passages in the Old Testament in which the hope emerges come upon us suddenly, as the finding of the key came upon the pilgrim. This passage in Job is one. The tried man is in the very extremity of his distress. He feels---for so he interprets his distress---that God for some reason is angry with him, and that His anger will endure till he dies. His disease is mortal, and will carry him to his grave. But is that all? Job finds his faith in God come to his relief. For God is righteous, the Vindicator of righteousness, and it is not possible for Him to abandon a righteous man as Job would be abandoned if his death ended all. The idea comes to Job, through his faith in God, that Sheol may not be the final outlook, and he puts it into the pathetic prayer: 'Oh that thou wouldest hide me in Sheol, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath is past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!' How patient such a prospect would make the suffering man. How uncomplainingly he would face the dreary underworld if he knew that it was only a temporary interruption to his communion with God. 'All the days of my warfare would I wait, till my release should come. Thou shouldest call, and I would answer thee: Thou wouldest have a desire to the work of thine hands.' This is only the yearning of the soul, its faint anticipation, born of faith, of what might be; but in a later passage we see it flame up triumphantly, though it is but for a moment. 'I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand up at the last upon the earth: and after my skin hath been thus destroyed, yet from my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. My reins are consumed within me'---that is, I faint with longing for that great vindication. Both in Egypt and in Greece faith in immortality, such as it was, rested simply on conceptions of man's nature; here, as everywhere in revelation religion, it rests on the character of God. He is the eternal Righteousness, and His faith is pledged to man, whom He calls to live in fellowship with Himself. All things may seem to be against man; his friends may desert him, circumstances may accuse him; but if he is righteous God cannot desert him, and if he must die under a cloud even death will not prevent his vindication. His Redeemer lives, and one day he shall see God. And to see God is to have life, in the only sense which is adequate to the Bible use of the word.

In the Book of Psalms we have the same type of conviction presented from another point of view. The psalmist write, as a rule, as men in the actual enjoyment of communion with God. God Himself is their refuge and their portion; as one of them says, they have no good beyond Him. In their experience the Divine and the human interpenetrate each other: they see and enjoy God. Perhaps it is one consequence of this intense consciousness of God's presence and grace that they think so little about the future. Having God, they have everything, and no time, past, present, or to come, can make any difference to them. But sometimes they do deliberately face the thought of death, and then we see their faith shine out. What has death to do with such a life as theirs? Is death stronger than God? If he holds us, can it pluck us out of His hand? Never. The Old Testament saints, in the sublime hours of their faith, had a sublime sense of their eternal security with God. 'Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.' 'God will redeem my soul to Sheol: for he shall receive me.' 'Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol: neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life'---in opposition to the expected course of that pathless gulf; 'in thy presence is fullness of joy; in thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' No, we even find words of triumph over the last enemy which the new Testament in its loftiest mood can only borrow: 'I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death where are thy plagues? O grave, where is thy destruction?' It was along this line of religious experience, inspired by faith in the living, true, holy, and gracious God, that the true hope of immortality entered the world.

It would have been natural once to pass from the Old Testament to the New almost without the consciousness of interruption, but this is hardly permissible now. When we consider the two in reference to the subject before us, it is obvious that in the New Testament the faith in immortality has new features. In particular, it has become quite definitely a faith in the resurrection. The growth of this peculiar form of the belief in immortality has been laboriously investigated, but not with entire success. The sacred books of the Persians, who certainly believed in some kind of resurrection, have been diligently explored, and many who know that the religion of Israel received no impulse from Egyptian ideas of the future suppose that it was strongly influenced by contact with Zoroastrianism. But the real fountain of the hope in immortality has already been indicated, and when we look at the resurrection as it appears in Zoroastrianism and in Jewish apocalyptic literature on the one hand, and in the New testament on the other, it is not more the similarity than the contrast by which we are impressed. In these other books we are in a world of lawless fantasy, where anything is said of the future because nothing is known; in the New testament we are on the same ground of historical fact and religious experience which is characteristic of the Old.

Christians believe in their own resurrection to eternal life, because they believe in the resurrection of Christ. But faith does not depend upon---it does not originate in nor is it maintained by---the resurrection of Christ simply as an historical fact. The resurrection of Jesus is not simply a fact outside of us, guaranteeing in some mysterious way our resurrection in some remote future. It is a present power in the believer. He can say with St. Paul: Christ liveth in me---the risen Christ---the Conqueror of death---and a part, therefore, is ensured to me in His life and immortality. This is the great idea of the New Testament wherever the future life is in view. It is indeed very variously expressed. Sometimes it is 'Christ in us, the hope of glory.' Sometimes it is specially connected with the possession, or rather the indwelling, of the Holy Spirit. 'It the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you.' It is easy to see that the religious attitude here is precisely what it was in the Old Testament, though, as the revelation is fuller, the faith which apprehends it, and the hope which grows out of it, are richer. Just as union with God guaranteed to the Psalmist a life that could never end, so union with the risen Savior guaranteed to the Apostles, and guaranteed to us, the resurrection triumph over death. Here is a faith in immortality which is moral and spiritual through and through---which rests upon a supreme revelation of what God has done for man---which involves a present life in fellowship with the risen Savior--- which is neither worldly nor other worldly, but eternal---which has propagated itself through all ages and in all men to become sharers in it--- which is the present, living, governing faith of believing men and women in proportion as they realize their union with the Savior: a faith infinite in its power to console and inspire: a faith not always easy to hold, but demanding for its retention that effort and strain in which St. Paul stove to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death, if by any means he might attain to the resurrection of the dead. And all this, which fills the Epistles of the New Testament, goes back to the words of Jesus himself: 'Abide in me, and I in you'; and 'Because I live, ye shall live also.'

In Christ, timothy. maranatha

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