The GOSPEL TRUTH
Sermons on the Resurrection:
JESUS ON THE EVENING OF EASTER DAY
H. P. Liddon
"Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." -- Luke 24:39
It was on the evening of the day of His Resurrection, and on the occasion described by St. John in today's Gospel, that our Lord uttered these words. Of the Eleven, in St. Thomas's absence, only ten were present. They were assembled in a secret chamber for fear of the Jews; and with them were other friends and disciples. They were discussing the report of our Lord's appearance to Peter, when they were joined by the two disciples who had met our Lord, as St. Mark says, in a different form or guise, on the Emmaus road during the afternoon, and who had known Him in the Breaking of Bread. Not to mention what must have reached them from St. Mary Magdalene and the other women, these two reports from the two disciples, and from St. Peter thus combined, may well have made the hearts of those present beat more quickly than they did before. Where was He? Would He show Himself? Would they too see Him? Would He most resemble the Jesus of the Transfiguration or the Jesus of Calvary? Would He be as He was before He suffered? or would His visage be still so marred that only a few would know Him? or would He be so changed into an unimagined form of glory and beauty, that the Sacred Face would be hardly recognized, except by very intimate friends, like Simon Peter? Or was all this purely speculation? Might not Peter -- some may have reasoned thus at that time, -- might not Peter have been himself deceived? Might the two disciples have mistaken some one else for their Master; could they have read His well-remembered Features into the countenance of some other Rabbi? It was in the midst of some such a turmoil of hopes and fears, of speculations and doubts, of bold anticipations and despairing conjectures, that Jesus Himself appeared. He gave no sign of His approach. Angels were guarding His empty tomb; but no angel visibly announced Him. There was no sound that rent the air; no blaze of brilliant light, as on the Holy Mount, illumined the chamber; no wall-fell, as before the conqueror of Jericho; no door was opened. All had been fastened up for safety's sake against the Jewish enemy; all remained as it had been. But they looked; and behold He was there; He was in the very midst of them. How they knew not, but so it was; the thin air had yielded to their sight that Form, that Countenance Which they could not but recognize. And then, a second sense was summoned to support the evidence of sight. The Form which they beheld spoke; He spoke in a Voice with whose every intonation they were so familiar; "Jesus saith unto them, Peace be unto you."
The Evangelist describes the immediate effect. They were terrified and affrighted. They had seen, as they thought, an inhabitant of another world. Not an appearance without essence, as some have conjectured; not an angel, since an angel is a specifically distinct being from a man; still less, as it has been imagined, an evil spirit self-changed into a form of light; but the disembodied spirit of their dead Master making itself visible; this was what the disciples supposed that they saw. The language of the Evangelist leaves no real room for question on this head. They thought that the Body of Jesus was still resting in the grave in the rich man's garden; their incredulity, which was proof against the remembered predictions of their Master, was also proof against the report of Peter and the two disciples. But, as they could not mistake either the Form before them or the Voice to which they listened, they supposed that Jesus, being dead, had appeared to them as spirit without a body. It was, they believed, His ghost that they saw. My brethren, however we may account for it, man has a secret terror at the thought of contact with pure spirit, unclothed by a bodily form; this dread, I say, is part of our human nature. Perhaps it is due to an apprehension that a disembodied spirit, with its superior freedom and subtlety of movement, may easily take beings such as we are, weighted with a body of sense, at a fearful disadvantage. Perhaps it is to be referred to a dim sense of the truth that our nature is really mutilated, when, during the interval between death and the resurrection, the soul exists for a time apart from the body; it is difficult else to account for the dread of such appearances among those who look forward to a time in which they themselves will be bodiless spirits. St. Paul betrays something of the feeling in question, when he writes to the Corinthians of the spirit after death as "unclothed;" as though death inflicted an outrage upon our poor humanity, and the state of the dead until the resurrection had about it inevitably a touch of the unnatural. Certain, at any rate, it is that the feeling expressed by Eliphaz the Temanite holds good for all time: --
"In the visions of the night,
When deep sleep falleth on men,
Fear came upon me, and trembling,
Which made all my bones to shake.
Then a spirit passed before my face;
The hair of my flesh stood up:
It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof:
An image was before mine eyes; There was silence .... "
This instinct of our nature, which shrinks from contact with the spirits of the dead, is by no means confined to, or chiefly exhibited in, fervent believers in Divine Revelation. On the contrary, doubt as to Revealed Truth is the natural soil for all unreasoning fears: men ever feel that any horror from beneath possible, when no blessing is certain from above. Saul is naturally drawn towards the witch of Endor; and the spiritualism, so called, of our day, weird and even grotesque as it often is, gains its most distinguished adherents from among the advocates of pure materialism. Had the disciples looked forward to the fulfilment of their Master's word, as a simple matter of course, they would have welcomed Him with reverent love; and this love would have cast out tormenting fear. As it was, they fell back upon the surmise that He was a ghost; and they shivered at perceiving how near this unearthly being was to each of them.
They said nothing. But He, as always, knew what they felt, what they thought. He did not conjecture their thoughts and feelings; He read them with that penetrating inward glance, which makes Him, in time and in eternity, the Master and Judge of souls; and He was ready with His consolations. "Why are ye troubled? and why do reasonings arise in your hearts? Behold My Hands and My Feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh end bones as ye see Me have."
This scene is suggestive of so many considerations that a choice is difficult. But there are three which, as it appears to me, claim especial attention just at present.
Here we note first of all our Lord's indulgent treatment of mistakes and imperfections in religious belief. We may venture to say that the disciples, seeing our Lord in the midst of them, ought to have recognized Him at once. They know, from long companionship with Him, that there were no discoverable limits to His power over life and nature. They knew that He had been transfigured on the mountain, and had walked upon the sea. They knew that He had formally claimed to be Messiah, by assuming the distinctive title of Messiahship, -- the "Son of Man." They knew that He had shown to them from the Old Testament that the Messiah must suffer, and rise again the third day, in virtue of a prophetic necessity. They knew indeed that to remove all doubt He had, on more occasions than one, and very solemnly, stated that this would happen to Himself; so that, when they saw Him led forth to death, and expiring in agony, and laid in a tomb, they might have known what would follow. The earlier part of His prediction had been fulfilled to the letter; were they not sure enough of His power to be certain that what remained would be fulfilled as well?
That our Lord held His disciples responsible for such knowledge as this is plain from the words which He had used, earlier in the afternoon, when addressing the two on the Emmaus road: "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" And then, continues the Evangelist, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself." The reproach addressed to the two disciples seems to imply that, in their case, the responsibility may have been enhanced by the enjoyment of certain opportunities which we cannot accurately measure. But St. Mark refers to the very scene we are now considering by saying that Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen Him alter He rose from the dead. Yet, looking to St. Luke's report, what tender censure it is! Here certainly is no expression which betrays grief or anger. He meets their excitement with the mildest rebuke; if it be a rebuke. "Why are ye disquieted? and why do critical reasonings arise in your hearts?" He traces their trouble of heart to its true source; the delusion which possessed their understandings, about His being only a "spirit." In His tenderness He terms their unworthy dread a mere disquietude of the heart; they are on a false track, and He will set them right. They doubt whether what seems to be the Body which hung upon the cross is really before them; let them look hard at His Hands and at His Feet which had been pierced by the nails. They doubt their sense of sight; very well, let them handle Him; they will find that it is not an ethereal form, which melts away at the experiment of actual contact. He does not peremptorily condemn their notion that a bodiless spirit had appeared to them, as if it were a mere superstition; He even seems to sanction it, when He observed that such spirits have not flesh and bones which answer to the sense of touch. He appeals, let us observe, not merely to hearing and to sight, but to touch. "Handle Me," He says, "and discern." Remember St. John's language at the beginning of his First Epistle; "That Which we have heard, That Which we have seen with our eyes, Which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life;" it may well show that they took Him at His word. Touch indeed is the least intellectual, the bluntest, the most material of the five senses. In the order of spiritual precedence, it is below taste and smell, just as sight, and still more hearing, are above them, Touch may be deceived at least as easily as sight. But in certain depressed mental states touch affords a sense of confidence which sight cannot command; it supplies a kind of evidence which, united with other and higher testimony, removes a last obstacle to faith,
Our Lord knows that all this might have been, that it ought to have been unnecessary, But He also measures human weakness, He knows how the tyranny of sense, and of the mental habits which are governed by the senses, holds down the aspirations of faith and love, He, the True Parent and Deliverer of men, "knoweth of what we are made; He remembereth that we are but dust." ...
Here, too, we see our Lord's sanction of the principle of inquiry into the foundations of our religious belief. Certainly He said to St. Thomas a week afterwards, that they were blessed who had not seen His open Wounds, and yet had believed His Resurrection. But in St. Thomas's case, as a week earlier in that of the Ten and their friends, He sanctions, nay He invites, inquiry, observation, reflection. He does not say, 'If after the testimony of My prophets, after My Own assurances, after the report of My disciples, you cannot believe that I am risen from My grave, and that you see Me before you; then continue in your unbelief; be gone.' He does say, 'Use the means of inquiry which God has given you: behold My pierced Hands and Feet; see for yourselves that I am He Who hung upon the Cross: nay, touch Me, if thus only you can escape from your illusion, and can discover for yourselves that a Body of flesh and bones is before you, endowed indeed with new and glorious properties, but with Its substantial identity unimpaired.'
Certainly, my brethren, inquiry into the grounds of faith is not the noblest department of religious activity. Our highest duty towards religious truth is to act on it; to expend the strongest and choicest forces of our souls in paying the rightful tribute of love, adoration, obedience, joyful and constant devotion to Him Whose glory and beauty, and mercy and strength, are thus made known to us. And undoubtedly there are souls who, from childhood until death, thus offer to God a continuous service of the affections and of the will. They see truth intuitively as did St. John; they sit and gaze on it as did Mary of Bethany; to them one prayer beyond all others is dear: "Behold, my delight Is in Thy commandments; O quicken me in Thy righteousness." And thus, though they live in an age of cold indifference to, or of insolent rebellion against, Revealed Truth, they are "not afraid for any terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the sickness that destroyeth at the noonday." Happy and privileged souls! some of whom are to be recognized in every generation, and not least in our own; happy souls whose eyes are ever directed upwards, whose feet are ever pressing forwards, upon whom the burning fiery furnace of human struggle and passion has had no power; as though they had been all along "hidden privily in God's Own Presence from the provoking of all men, and kept secretly in His Tabernacle from the strife of tongues." Some such there were in that upper room. They needed not to gaze curiously at the glorious Wounds, or reverently to handle the very Limbs of the Redeemer; they knew that He was there; that He had risen indeed; that He had appeared unto Simon.
With most of us, it is different; God, knows how different. We are of our age; acting perhaps feebly upon it; acted upon by it, we may be sure, most powerfully; sharing its great privileges, its inspiriting hopes and efforts; sharing too its prejudices, its errors, Its illusions. On most of us it leaves many a scar; if it does no worse. We, after our fashion, meet Stoics and Epicureans at Athens; we, too, after the manner of men, fight, or ought to fight with beasts at Ephesus. And this means that the life of affection and obedience is necessarily traversed by another life; the life of the critical understanding. If in our day the understanding cannot but survey religious truth, seriously, eagerly, keenly; it need not forget the duties of reverence; it may enable us the better to do the Apostle's bidding, and "be ready to give to every man a reason of the hope that is in us."
Undoubtedly the understanding has great and exacting duties towards Revealed Truth. If God speaks, the least that His rational creatures can do is to try to understand Him. And therefore, as the powers of the mind gradually unfold themselves, the truths of religion ought to engage an increasing share of each of them, and not least of the understanding. What too often happens is, that while a young man's intelligence is interesting itself more and more in a widening circle of subjects, it takes no account of religion. The old childish thoughts about religion lie shrivelled up in some out-of-the-way corner of a powerful and accomplished mind, the living and governing powers of which are engaged in other matters. Then, the man for the first time in his life meets with some sceptical book; and he brings to bear on it the habits of thought and judgment which have been trained in the study of widely different matters. He forms, he can form, no true estimate of a subject, so unlike any he has really taken in hand before: he is at the mercy of his new instructor, since he knows nothing that will enable him to weigh the worth or the worthlessness of startling assertions. He makes up his mind that science has at length spoken on the subject of religion; and he turns his back, with a mingled feeling of irritation and contempt, on the truths which he learned at his mother's knee ....
Depend on it, a time comes to many thoughtful young men and women, when they are tempted to think that what they have learnt in childhood about life and death, and God and Jesus Christ, and all that bears on our place in the eternal world, is uncertain; the shadow of an old creed which still haunts the earth; the echo of voices which ought wholly to have died away at the close of the Middle Ages. To many a young man, the first visit to his mind of this terrible suspicion, has brought real and keen agony, in this our own day and country. But in every such trial, to every sincere soul, there is, I dare to say, a voice to be heard which still whispers, "Behold My Hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have." You think, young man, that it is the ghost of a religion which confronts you; handle it, and you will see for yourself that it rests on a basis, at least as sure as any of the ordinary forms of human knowledge. It rests on history. The Life, and Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a work of the sanctified imagination of a later age; it is, at least, as much a part of the story of our race as are the life, the victories, the assassination of Julius Caesar. Handle it, searchingly but reverently, and you will discern this for yourself: you will see that there is in it an intrinsic consistency, a solidity, power of resistance to critical solvents, which you have not suspected. But do not suppose that, because it condescends to be thus tested by your understanding, as regards its reality, it is therefore within the compass of your understanding, as regards its scope. It begins with that which you can appraise; it ends in that which is beyond you: because while you are finite and bounded in your range of vision, it is an unveiling of the Infinite, of the Incomprehensible. Yes; Christianity plants its feet firmly on the soil of earth; its hands are seen again and again working in the stirring agencies of human history; but it rears its head towards the sky; it loses itself amidst the clouds of heaven. We see the very feet, the hands, the utter reality of the One Incomparable Life; but we only see enough to know assuredly that there is much more which is necessarily and utterly above us, since it is lost, as the Apostle would say, in the majestic "depths of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God."
Once more, note here the direction which our Lord purposely gave to the thoughts of His perplexed disciples. He does not turn them in upon themselves; He does not take their trouble, so to speak, sympathetically to pieces, and deal with its separate elements: He does not refute one by one the false reasonings which arise within them. He does not say to them: 'These disquietudes, these doubts, are mere mental disorders, or interesting experiences, and the mind itself can cure diseases which the mind has produced.' He would, on the contrary, have them escape from themselves; from the thick jungle of their doubts and fears and hopes and surmises; and come to Him. Whatever they may think, or feel; He is there, seated on a throne which enthusiasm did not raise, and which doubt cannot undermine; in His Own calm, assured, unassailable Life. "Behold My hands and My Feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and sec; for a mere spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have."
Religious men, speaking broadly, may be divided into two classes: those who are mainly occupied with themselves, and those who are mainly occupied with God. In modem language, we should call the religion of the first class, subjective; that of the second, objective. Subjective religion makes self the centre of all else; the soul's feelings, thoughts, experiences, are of first account; while Almighty God, His Truth and Grace, are interesting as ministering to or illustrating the varying experiences and moods of the thinking subject, of self. Thus self is the centre of the circle; God is only a point on the circumference. Objective religion, on the contrary, makes God the Being around Whom all else, the soul included, revolves. God, the Perfect and Self-existing, His Almightiness, His Intelligence, His Mercy, His Justice, His matchless Beauty, His unruffled and everlasting Peace; and then, His self-manifestation in the Eternal Son, Incarnate and Crucified, with the resulting Gifts of Grace, ministered by His Spirit, all this is of first account. When contemplating this splendid vision of the Truth the soul forgets itself. It forgets the relative, the shifting, the transitory, when it gazes on the Absolute, the Unchanging, the Eternal; it forgets its own petty, narrow, uncertain moods, when it looks out in good earnest on the awful and entrancing magnificence of God. Of objective religion, then, God is the centre; and self, with all its fitful experiences, is a mere point on the circumference.
Not that any religion, to be adequate, can be wholly of the one or of the other description. Objective religion, if unaccompanied by earnest care of the conscience, may easily degenerate into the sort of interest which an intelligent man cannot but take in the highest of all subjects, without its practically changing, moulding, invigorating his life. Doubtless to know God truly we must feel our personal need of Him; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To commune with our own hearts and search out our spirits, till we can say with David, "My sin is ever before me;" to study self in order to be self-distrustful and humble, and for no other purpose whatever; -- this is beyond doubt of vital import to our eternal peace. Not to know self, is to be only a speculative divine, or a heartless formalist.
But the danger of our day lies mainly in the opposite direction. Of modern religion, the greater part is subjective. It is not our Lord Jesus Christ, but our faith in Him, our affections towards Him, our experiences, our assurances, our convictions, about which many of us think chiefly. If it is healthy to dwell on our sins, it is very far from healthy to dwell on our emotions. Man himself, not Christ, is the object of this sort of religious enthusiasm. There is in it no forgetfulness of self for a single moment; there is nothing of the spirit of St. Paul's saying, "To me to live is Christ" since self is exalted at the very Feet of the Redeemer. We even hear faith spoken of as a creative faculty. Others, with fatal consistency, go further, and speak as though faith could create the righteousness which justifies the sinner, or even the Attributes of the Eternal Being. And thus, as the human mind is represented, not as simply receiving, but as originating the strength which is to save it and the objects upon which it dwells, it soon finds out that it can change these objects at will. Idols may be made by the mind just as easily as with the hands; and so it comes to pass that, side by side with the Christ of the Gospels, there are false and imaginary Christs in Christendom, who approve of all that their votaries desire, who condemn only what their votaries dislike, who are crowned, not with thorns, but with roses, and who smile tolerance or recognition upon errors and excesses which the true Christ of Christendom has for ever condemned. And thus is realised the stern irony of the Psalmist:
"With the holy Thou shalt be holy: and with a perfect man Thou shalt be perfect. With the clean Thou shalt be clean: and with the froward Thou shalt learn frowardness."
This is the ripe product of the subjective spirit in its exaggeration; and you will observe how closely allied it is to the conclusion of a Pantheistic thinker, that the whole object-matter of religion is really reflected into the heavens by the real or supposed necessities of the human soul. The only safeguard against it lies in clinging firmly to the objective character of real Christianity, as based upon assured historical facts. Let us remind ourselves that whether we believe them or not, the facts of the Christian Creed are true; and that faith only receives, bur that it cannot possibly create or modify Christ and His gifts. Whether men believe or not in His Eternal Person, in the atoning virtue of His Death, in the sanctifying influences of His Spirit, -- these are certain truths. They are utterly independent of the hesitations and vacillations of our understandings about them. To ourselves, indeed, it is of great moment whether we have faith or not: to Him, to His truth, to His gifts, it matters not at all. "The Lord sitteth above this waterflood" of our changing and inconstant mental impressions; "the Lord remaineth a King for ever." If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny 'Himself."
Let this, then, be our Easter work; to forget ourselves, if we can; to gaze: on the Wounds, to clasp the Feet of our Redeemer. Water cannot rise above its level; and if the soul of man is to be restored, it must be from without. It cannot be from within. Left to itself, the soul lacks the light, the strength, the impetus which it needs; it finds them in the Eternal Christ. It can, by faith, gaze on Him even now. It can, by faith, handle Him and discern that He is Man as well as God, God as well as Man, even now. Let us associate ourselves with that company in the upper chamber. Many of us share their trouble; why should we he denied their consolations? To our weakness, to our fears, to our indolent despair, to our barren self-complaccncy, He says, "Behold My Hands and My Feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and discern." Away, brethren, with the illusions which may have kept us from Him! Let us arise, and live.
CANON H. P. LIDDON (1829-1890)Of all the gifted preachers from whose works sermons on the Resurrection have been chosen for this collection of messages, H. P. Liddon was preeminently the churchman, though I would not say ecclesiastic, an Anglican of the High Church, but fervently evangelical, with emphasis first upon the Word of God rather than upon ritual or form. Henry Parry Liddon, the son of Captain Liddon, R.N., born August 20, 1829, in his early years was sent up to King's College School in London, from which at the age of seventeen, he proceeded to Oxford, having been nominated to a studentship at Christ Church. Here he devoted himself earnestly to his studies and to the cultivation of his own spiritual lire. Strange for a young Englishman, he took no part in games or athletic sports, though watching them with interest. In 1852 he was ordained and began his work as Assistant Curate at Wantage, under the one who was later to become the Dean of Lincoln. In 1854, when only twenty-five years of age, he was appointed by Bishop Wilberforce to the important office of Vice Principal of the newly established Theological College at Cuddeson, where, though he remained only five yean, he exercised an enormous influence over a number of young theological students, many of whom were subsequently to obtain fame in the Church of England.
Returning to Oxford, Liddon became Vice Principal of St. Edmund Hall and began that long intimate friendship with the learned Dr. Pusey, which exercised so deep an influence upon the younger man, in spite of his strongly independent nature, In 1868, when Liddon was not yet forty years of age, he delivered his famous Bampton Lectures, "The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," upon a very short notice because of the sudden illness of the one who had previously been appointed for this year. This is without doubt the greatest of all the Bampton Lectures of that generation, and my own opinion would be that it is one of the ten most notable books on the Deity of Christ that appeared in the nineteenth century, full of learning, and fervor, with a glowing love for the Lord Jesus and almost irresistible logic. For twelve years, Liddon continued his position as Ireland Professor of Exegesis at Oxford, but in the midst of this, in 1870, he was called to be a Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. At St. Paul's there now commenced what was without doubt the greatest ministry of Preaching in the Anglican Church of Great Britain for the next twenty years. The cathedral once again became a great national center of worship. In spite of the fact that none of his sermons was less than three-quarters of an hour in length, and some an hour and twenty minutes long, St. Paul's was soon crowded at the Sunday services when Liddon was preaching, with people from every walk of life, many of them leading intellectuals of their day. The verdict of Dean Stanley, himself a notable preacher and a great scholar, would be echoed by thousands of others. "Liddon took us straight up to heaven and kept us there an hour." His sermons were prepared with great care and very thoroughly revised before publication, so that the some twenty volumes of sermons that bear his name are among the most perfect specimens of the homiletic art, some of the most massive and yet inspiring pulpit messages that have appeared in print since the middle of the nineteenth century.
Liddon's love for the Bible and his constant defense of its divine origin gave to his messages an authority which those of weaker convictions could not command. Comparing the Bible to St. Paul's cathedral he called it "the Great Temple of Christ," and then went on to say, "When we take up the Bible, we enter in spirit a far more splendid temple, which it needed some fifteen centuries to build, and the variety and resources of which distances all comparison -- a temple built, not out of stone and marble, but with human words, yet enshrining within it, for the comfort and warning, the correction and encouragement of every human soul, no other and no less than the Holy and Eternal Spirit. Of that temple the Old Testament is the nave, with its side-aisles of Psalm and Prophecy; the Gospels are the choir -- the last Gospel, perhaps, the very sanctuary; while all around and behind are the Apostolic Epistles and the Apocalypse, each a gem of beauty, each supplying an indispensable feature to the majestic whole. With what joy should we daily enter that temple! With what profound reverence should we cross its threshold! With what care should we mark and note -- where nothing is meaningless -- each feature, each ornament, that decorates wall, or window, or roof!"
The strain of twenty years of the most intense preaching, the result of constant mental labor and spiritual exercise, together with some years of teaching at Oxford and the publication of many volumes, including the writing of the monumental life of Dr. Pusey, brought on ill health in 1885, and he was persuaded to take an extensive vacation, devoting some months to travel in the Near East. His recognition of declining health led him to refuse with sorrow the offer of the Bishopric of Edinburgh, and later, of St. Alban's. In spite of some months of ill health, his death September 1890, at the age of sixty-one, came as a surprise to his friends, and a shock to the Church of Christ everywhere.