The Power of His Resurrection

Phil. 3:10.---'That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.'

It was the risen Christ who appeared to St. Paul; the ascended, glorified Lord. It was the risen Christ he desired to know. Other apostles had seen the wonders of His earthly life, but this was history to the Apostle, as it is to us. There is no word of regret in all his Epistles that he had not walked with Him in Galilee, or listened to His inspiring words, or stood beneath His cross. Christ as He is---this is his search and his study: 'that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.' Christ in himself, and himself in Christ: this is more than Christ at his side, or Christ crucified before his eyes. Not a memory, but a life, is what he craves for: not a pattern, but a power. To have the risen Christ in him, to know that He is there, to know what He is doing there---that is to 'know him, and the power of his resurrection.' It was not the historical fact of the physical resurrection of Christ that he desired to be convinced of, although of that fact he had no shadow of doubt. To accept a historical fact when it is proved to you is not faith, nor is it knowledge, in the religious sense of those words. Faith is concerned with the unseen: and to have seen a person is not the same as to know him.

Probably no human testimony would have convinced Saul of Tarsus that Jesus of Nazareth had truly risen from the dead. And, if he had been convinced of the fact, we cannot say that it would have changed his attitude of hostility. But, to use his own words, 'it pleased God to reveal his son in me.' It was no mere external appearance: the risen, living Christ had laid hold of him and possessed him; His touch had reached into his inmost being.

From that moment all the testimony that others offered fitted in with what he knew of Christ. He delighted to collect it and weld it into an impregnable argument, to meet the questionings of the Greeks of Corinth who were puzzling over the possibility of any resurrection and the nature of resurrection bodies. But his faith rested not on testimonies. He was permeated with the living Presence of Christ: he had taken Him as the Master of his life---'Christ Jesus my Lord': he carried the witness in himself. Yet he seems to speak as if it were still his goal, not his attainment---to 'know him, and the power of his resurrection'---'if by any means I may attain.'

The power of the resurrection is no far-off promise, but a present gift. The anticipations of the future are in the New Testament quite subordinate to the assurance that eternal life is, after all, not primarily a hope to be cherished for the future, but an acquisition to be attained in this present life. The time to enter eternity is now. Immortality is not a matter of duration, but a matter of vitality; not a physical transition, but a moral awakening; not a matter of quantity, but a matter of quality. 'This is life eternal.' says the gospel, 'that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.' 'To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life'; 'We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren'; such are the promises and warnings which mark the New Testament teaching.

Christ speaks of Eternal Life not in the present or future, but "the mystic tense." People can live it here and now. 'If you would enter into life,' said Christ to that youth to whom His heart went forth, 'keep the commandments.'

As at the Renaissance men's minds were entirely changed by the astronomical discovery that the earth is not alone, with the heavens revolving far above it, but that it is in heaven, a part of it, so in the Testament men found that Time is an illusion and that this that we know now is a part of Eternity. And grasping that, they learned to live their life in a new way, the heavenly, the eternal way.

We have a wholly different way of approach to the problem of immortality from that which engages speculative minds in their guesses about the future. It is a way which starts, not from anticipation, but from experience; not with Christ risen in one's creed, but with Christ risen in one's life; not with immortality as a future gift, but with immortality as a present acquisition. In short, the sublime but dimly recognized teaching of the New Testament is this, that the spiritual order of this world is set over against the sensuous order as a literal contrast between life and death. One may fancy himself, that is to say, alive and well, in the fullness of physical health, and yet, according to this teaching, he may be sick, even unto death. 'This my son,' said the father of the prodigal, not in a figure of speech but in literal truth, 'was dead and is alive again.' Eternal life, in other words, is not a matter of creed but a matter of character.

It must be admitted that something of a wrench of mind is necessary to turn from the thought of immortality as a cosmic problem to the thought of immortality as a way of life. It is exhilarating to look back across the centuries and sing, 'Christ is risen'; but it strikes a much less jubilant note to ask, 'Am I risen with Christ? have I attained unto the resurrection?' Yet this is in fact the question of importance, and this personal and momentous transition is not so strange or remote as it at first may appear.

From the discovery of the meaning of life there follow two consequences of the most momentous and immediate importance.

The recognition of eternal life as now and here opens the straight road to assurance of its continuity and perpetuation. One rational conviction sustains and directs our faith. It is the assurance that what is excellent, as God lives, is permanent; that a life which is not of the body is not involved in the fate of the body; that those who have attained to the resurrection here are the best witnesses of its continuity hereafter. In other words, the most convincing reason for one's faith in immortality comes of acquaintance with lives which do not seem likely to die. 'Death,' it was said of Jesus, 'had no dominion over him.' The life of the Master had become in the mind of His followers so completely dissociated from the changes of the body that its continuance was the result of its character. As His word in the flesh had been with power, so, when that word was silenced, they lived by the power of His resurrection. Eternal life as a problem had been answered for them by eternal life as a fact. And that, ever since, has been the convincing demonstration of the survival of the human soul. Through some experience of affection or reminiscence one has had intimacy with lives which had in them the quality of timelessness.

If the best evidence of eternal life is knowledge of it as a fact; if, as we know what love is by loving, and what sight is by seeing, so we know what immortality is by seeing and loving a soul that is immortal---then there follows a second consequence which is not less reassuring. For this kind of life, resurrection, not yet wholly attained but already laid hold of, is what makes eternal life in the future not only real but worth the having. When one contemplates a future life which is a sheer duration, it is by no means certain whether it should be anticipated with hope or with fear. Immortality as duration, with all its perplexing problems of sin and its penalty, of punishment and retribution, has not much to recommend it to tired mortals; and there is nothing in it of the New Testament note of vitality and power. But immortality as opportunity, eternal life to be first attained and then maintained---that transfers one to a wholly different view.

To believe that the purposes and desires which have so often been unfulfilled may have their chance of realization; to believe that the blunders and follies which cloud one's memory may be somehow, even if it be with suffering, redeemed; to believe that the shining witnesses of the spirit which have sustained one's courage in this life are gathered into the timeless service of a loving God---this is to reach at last the New Testament way of approach to the mystery of the future. Not all at once is this assurance to be attained among the perplexities and discords of ordinary life. The things which are seen seem visionary. But by the teachings of experience, by companionship with lives unspotted from the world, by the dedication of our own life to the discipleship of Christ our Lord---the proportions of truth grow clearer, and realities emerge from illusion, and the sense of timelessness supplants the sense of temporariness.

In Christ, timothy. Maranatha