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The Necessity of Immortality


It is not altogether easy to follow the apostle's argument in this magnificent chapter. We do not even commonly feel its force as an argument, so powerful is it as a revelation of things which the human mind had never before conceived. And yet it is an argument, designed to prove that the life of man must be continued under new condi tions, in other spheres, beyond the grave.

Our belief in such a life awaiting us rests on various considerations. We find it, for one thing, an almost universal belief among mankind; and we justly argue that what men have always and every where accepted as true, cannot be a total illusion. We find within ourselves a more or less distinct an ticipation of a life that is to follow death. It is contrary, indeed, to all the testimony which comes to us through our senses. No clear evidence of it may ever have been presented to our minds. It is often extremely difficult to make it real to our thought, and we feel the force of the arguments which tend to disprove it. Yet there are very few of us who would be ready to say that they do not believe in it. The expectation of it does not seem to be due to inheritance and early training, or to the influence of the faith of those around us on ourselves. It seems rather to be innate within us, to be instinctive in our souls; and we cannot think that there is actually nothing which corresponds to it, - that it is a deceptive dream.

On the contrary, if our deepest and most persist ent feelings will not permit us to accept annihila tion as our destiny, our reason also seems to de mand another life, by which the evident incom pleteness of the present shall be rounded out, its mysteries solved, and its contradictions reconciled. There would seem to be no order or intelligence in the course of earthly affairs; it would appear rea sonable to question the wisdom and goodness and the moral government of God, if processes that are here begun are not elsewhere carried forward, and if evil which is so often triumphant in this world is not in another conquered by good. And then, re ceiving the Bible, as we do, as the word of God, intended to reveal to us what we cannot discover for ourselves, we find the truth of immortality shin ing, faintly indeed but really, from the pages of the Old Testament, and giving a celestial splendor to the pages of the New. A future life is not only implied in the teaching of the Lord and His apos tles, it is distinctly asserted by them. Some things are told us in regard to it which, if we respect their authority, we must accept as true. No one who believes the Christian Scriptures can doubt that the life begun in this world is continued in the world unseen.

But in this wonderful chapter of St. Paul's epis e, which is so often read in that solemn moment n which we bid farewell to those whom death has taken from us, to which we so often turn for conso lation and for light in the hour of sore bereave ment, and which was so evidently written under an inspiration from above, - in this most remarkable passage of all his writings, a very different reason is given for the belief in a life beyond the grave."This mortal must put on immortality, "he says. And why"must"? Because another life is neces sary to the completion of the work of Christ. The relation of every believer to his Saviour, St. Paul declares, implies development; the work of Christ within him is not completed when he has given himself to Christ and has accepted Christ as his Redeemer and Lord. It is then only begun. The germ of a new life is implanted in his soul, and that life is destined to develop, until finally his whole nature shall be renewed and his assimilation to Christ be perfect. But this does not take place, it cannot take place, within the limits of the pres ent life. It requires another life beyond the grave. It involves a change in the conditions and mode of existence, by which the fetters of the flesh shall be cast off, and a larger career be opened to the eman cipated spirit. With the beginnings of this great change we are all familiar. We are conscious of them as they take place within ourselves. It is fol lowed by a gradual and steady growth toward the image of Him whose name we bear and whose Spirit is at work within us. And now the apostle says that this development is not arrested by death.

It goes forward forever. But its future progress is determined by its present tendency. It is like the growths of the natural world, - a development within the limits of kind. And for its completion it requires not merely that the soul should be im mortal, but that the whole man - body, soul, and spirit - should be translated from this world to an other, where his progress may be unhindered and unending. When this is realized, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory."The work for the sake of which the Son of God became incarnate will be fully accomplished. For this reason it is that"this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality"; not because the life of the human soul is indestructible, or be cause it is fragmentary and imperfect within the limits of the present world, but because that which Christ has undertaken to do for it cannot be done except as its existence is continued into the long ages of the future.

I have no intention of attempting to follow out into its details this great argument of the apostle. It is certainly worthy, as an argument, to be most thoughtfully pondered, and I am persuaded that its force is often missed even by those who are most familiar with his words and who have derived the greatest comfort from them. But there are cer tainly one or two thoughts suggested by his course of reasoning which might well find a permanent place in all our minds.

The first of them is this: that in order to gain any true understanding of our own nature, of the purposes and experiences of the present life, and of the destiny awaiting us hereafter, it is necessary that we should clearly apprehend the nature and the office of the Lord Jesus Christ. The tendency of Christian thought at the present day is to dwell largely on His humanity. Christ as a teacher, as an example, as a sympathizing friend, as a patient sufferer, as the greatest, wisest, and most lovely of mankind, - so it is that we perhaps most often re gard Him. It is most comforting and helpful thus to be able to see Jesus as He was seen by those who walked at His side and sat at His feet and wept in helpless sorrow under the shadow of His cross. It has no doubt done much to bring Chris tian theology out of the realm of abstract specula tion, and to make it a living reality. It has made us feel afresh the surpassing beauty of a holy life. It has taught us priceless lessons of sympathy with one another, while it has encouraged us to go to Him for forgiveness and for help, with the same trustful confidence which He awakened among the suffering and the sinful whom He healed and pardoned. We cannot possibly get too near to the Christ of the gospels. We cannot possibly lay too strong an emphasis on the fact that He took our nature upon Him, and that He was in all points tempted as we ourselves are tempted now. Never again, as long as time lasts, can the world lose sight of the man Christ Jesus.

And yet it is a very striking fact that the great est of the apostles, the chief interpreter and expo nent and champion of the Christian religion, says very little about the earthly life and about the hu man nature of our Lord. What he saw in Him chiefly was the fulness of the godhead. He was to him the Son of God sent down from heaven. He came in all the glory of His divine nature and dwelt for a little while among us. He came to reveal the Father's heart; He came to do the Father's will; He came to recover and restore the lost children of His Father, and to reestablish in their obedient souls His Father's just authority. His life and death were the expression of the self sacrificing love of God. And by giving Himself for the redemption of the world, He made Himself the King of the world. His presence among men was not an incident in their history, it was the ful filment of God's eternal purpose. And His depar ture from the world was not the end of His connec tion with it. It was His exaltation to the throne of sovereign authority and power. King of the world, Lord of angels and men, - by virtue of His essen tial oneness with His Father and of His atoning life and death, - such was Christ as St. Paul con ceived of Him, or rather, as He had revealed Him self to His apostle. And that conception of Christ was the central fact in St. Paul's philosophy of his tory. It was the key which unlocked for him the secrets of the future. When he wrote, "Of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, "he showed us plainly in what relation Christ stood before his mind to the history of the past, and to the still unenacted history of the ages to come. Every thing in heaven and on earth revolved about and centred in the Lord Jesus Christ. If apart from Him nothing could be accomplished, apart from Him nothing could be understood.

Now it hardly needs to be said that this is a much grander and truer way than the other to think of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is undoubtedly the way in which He thought of Himself. It is the way in which He was believed in and wor shiped and trusted by those to whom the founding of His church on earth was committed. And it is the way in which He has made Himself known to the noblest and most truly inspired souls in every age. He who has this exalted thought of the character, person, and office of the Lord, can alone understand what was done on earth in anticipation of His coming, and what He has Himself been do ing through the continuing activity of His Spirit among men. The history of the past is a hopeless tangle except as you see one increasing purpose running through it, and recognize that purpose as the redemption of the world from the power of evil by the cross and the Spirit of Christ. The tumul tuous movements of mankind at the present hour have no more meaning than the tossing of an angry sea, except as you recognize the working out by means of them of the same mighty and gracious plan. Here is the solution of the mysteries by which we are so often baffled in our own personal experience, - the disappointments and sorrows which sometimes take the joy and hope out of our souls. And here is the only possible clue to the unsolved problems that confront us, and the only sure basis of hope for the future welfare of mankind. Christ over all, everywhere active, everywhere working for the gracious end which Him from the heavens to the earth, - this is the one transcendent fact in the history of mankind, as it is now going forward and is to go forward forever. Small events as well as great ones are explained by it. Humble lives as well as splendid ones are rich or poor according to their relation to it. And he only is competent to judge of what has taken place in the past and is taking place to-day, or to forecast the yet unreal ized future, who sees that the supreme force by which the life of the race has hitherto been guided and its future destiny is yet to be determined is the sovereign will of Him who was once suspended on the cross and to whom now all authority both in heaven and on earth is given.

Another thought suggested by the apostle's words is this: that the spiritual life of men is one of con tinuous development, and that that development, begun here on earth, is to go on forever. It is not very many years since the Christian world was startled and alarmed by the proclamation of the theory of evolution. Men looked at one an other in dismay, and said, "If it is true, then the authority of the Bible is destroyed, the Christian religion must be given up."And with the utmost vehemence they maintained that it could not be true. A calmer temper and a more just discern ment in regard to the matter now prevail among us. Scientific thinkers with few exceptions have adopted the theory, and Christian thinkers have discovered that it not only does not contradict the teachings of the Bible, but furnishes new evidence of the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. And yet while all this hot discussion was going on, we had, and were reading every day, in this fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians the most impressive and the most daring statement of the law of evolu tion which has ever been put into words."That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body which shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat or of some other grain; but God giveth it a body as it bath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body."This is the process of de velopment in nature--the evolution of the plant and the flower from the seed, within the limit of species, under the operation of the ever-present energy of God. The apostle might have gone on to point out other applications of the same prin ciple, in the development of higher types of life from lower ones, in the animal and vegetable world, within similar limits and under the same vivifying power. He might have applied it to society, and then we should have had from him a statement of the great principle of social evolution, by which the race has been gradually elevated and the civili zation of mankind advanced. He does not do this, but he does more than this. He applies it to the moral and spiritual life of men. He asserts that this is the law under which each of us is liv ing, and by virtue of which each of us is to come at last to the fulness of his destiny. Out of the germ implanted by God's Spirit in your soul and mine a new life springs, which cannot attain its full completeness until the bonds by which it is now imprisoned have been burst by death and it gains the freedom of higher spheres for its un limited and endless progress. As clearly as any

thing can be stated, this is what St. Paul maintains in this most sublime passage of his writings. It is not merely that this world is too small and time too short for the activity of such a being as the incarnate Son of God. It is that the earth is too small and time too short for the full development of the spirit ual nature which every man possesses. If Christ needs eternity for the accomplishment of His work, we too need eternity for the attainment of all that we are designed to reach. Like the seed which bursts its hard envelope, that the life within it may unfold itself in a new and nobler form, so these bodies of ours must be cast off that the life in us may come to completer exhibition and to a more glorious development. And all this reveals the operation of the same divine Spirit from which all life proceeds. This is the method of God's work ing in nature, in society, and in the personal ex perience of every one of us. One great divine law is over the whole creation. It is this law, the mere name of which sometimes alarms us, of the develop ment of the higher from the lower, until the highest possibility shall be at last attained. And the death of the lower is incidental to this - an essential con dition of it. It is not the end of life, it is the opening of the door into a larger, nobler life. The apostle Paul was of course a stranger to the scien tific knowledge, as well as to the scientific theories, of modern days; but this great truth he clearly saw, and in this wonderful he states it with equal boldness and power.

One other thing, which I have already hinted at, is plainly taught us in these words. It is that the development of the human spirit in the life await ing it hereafter is along the lines which it has been pursuing during its career on earth. We often think of death as changing everything, not only the outward conditions of life but its essential char acter. We expect it to have a sort of magical effect upon us, transforming what was low and base into something pure and perfect. It cannot be so, if this doctrine of development is true."There is a natural body, "says St. Paul, "and there is a spiritual body. That was not first which is spirit ual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual. As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. The dead shall be raised, incorruptible, and we shall be changed."Yes, but we shall still be ourselves. It is this corruptible which must put on incorruption, and this mortal which must put on immortality."To every seed its own body."The life of the world to come is the same life that is in us now, expanded, exalted, made immortal. The character which we are to manifest forever is that which is formed within us and revealed by us here on earth. If it were not so, then this present life would stand in no relation to the life beyond the grave. If it were not so, there would have been no reason why the Lord Jesus Christ should come to this world and should suffer and die here. The cross might as well have been set up on the other side of the river of death. If it were not so, there would be no reason why the gospel should be preached to living men. It might just as well be preached to disembodied spirits, if it is not the life we are now living which determines the condition and the character of the life which is to come. It is a tremendous fact, but it is a fact, that we are in eternity already. We are already started on that career which is to have no end. As our faces are now set, so we are forever to travel, - upward or downward, toward God or away from Him, toward ever loftier heights of purity and happiness, or ever deeper depths of sin and shame. This mortal must put on immortality; and such as this mortal now is, such will its immortality be. There is no promise of any moral reformation in death. For death only touches the body. It cannot change the immortal spirit. Not when we have passed out of earthly conditions, but here and now, is the question of our eternal destiny decided.

It sometimes seems as if the fact that this mortal must put on immortality, sooner or later, and per haps very soon, made our present life a thing of little consequence. Why should we care very much what we do or do not do, what we gain or lose, what we enjoy or suffer, when at any moment we are liable to pass out of this brief existence into that which will never end? Yes, it is true that this earthly life is of little consequence compared with the life everlasting. If you are straining every nerve to make money, to obtain power over your fellow-men, to secure new opportunities of enjoy ment, to gain a social position which you can keep only for a few years at the utmost, it is not worth while, in view of the fact that your true life is not on this side of the grave but on the other. It is not worth while to suffer yourself to be tormented by envy of those who are more fortunate than you are; or to be filled with anger and hatred toward those who have treated you ill; or to be discour aged by difficulties, or restive under restraints, or morose or petulant under disappointment, or heart broken under great affliction. Remember that this mortal must soon put on immortality, and that then all these things will be forever left behind. What do you care now for the trials which seemed so in tolerable when you were a child? When you be come an immortal, you will think and care still less about a thousand things which now engross your mind and oppress your spirit. In this sense the present life is of small account compared with that which is to come.

But on the other hand, it is of inconceivable consequence in view of its relation to the future life, when you remember that what you are now doing determines your character, and that your character determines your destiny. Even trifling acts thus acquire immense significance. It is because we so constantly forget that we are laying the foundations on which we are to build forever; that we are sow ing the seeds of a harvest which we are to reap in the centuries to come, - it is because we forget this that we suffer ourselves to be so absorbed with things that do not profit, and so indifferent to the claims of duty and of God. 0 that we might re member, as our life goes on from day to day, as we move about among our fellow-men, as we go to our business and return to our homes, as one by one we meet the temptations and the opportunities which come crowding upon us hour by hour, - 0 that we might say to ourselves from time to time:"I too must put on immortality. This is not life; it is only the preparation for life. I am a child at school. The career assigned me, the work I am to do, lies all before me. How soon I must take it up I do not know. But I do know that I am soon to put on immortality. I am to stand with those who have passed over their earthly course before me and have now entered into life. I am to see God. I am to appear in the presence of Christ. I am to be admitted to the society of the pure and blessed spirits who are already living the immortal life. How may I fit myself to join them? How may I become worthy to share in the service in which they are engaged? God help me to do this day's work aright! God shield me from the temptations to evil by which I shall otherwise be surely overcome, so that when the hour strikes for my entrance upon the life awaiting me, I may be ready for the summons, and be prepared to leave what is mortal behind me, and to go forth to an immortality of peace and joy I Then, if the truth which is brought before us in these words of the apostle is fitted to impress us with the sense of the solemnity and sacredness of life, it also enables us to understand the reason why the Lord Jesus Christ should come into this world and here lay down His life for its redemption. The gospel sometimes seems to us so mysterious and wonderful as to be beyond belief. It is, in deed, quite impossible that men should have invented such a story and have wrought out for themselves upon the basis of it a religion of such scope and grandeur and spiritual power. And yet we sometimes say to ourselves, "Do I really believe, can I really believe, that Jesus of Nazareth was in truth the Son of God; that God Himself was will ing to take my nature on Him, and to suffer and die for my salvation?"We could not believe it if this life were all. It would be incredible if the only result to be accomplished by it were the deliverance of men from the evils by which they are now afflicted, or even the establishment of a purer and happier social life among them while the earth continues to be their home. But when you remember that each and every one of them is an immortal being with an endless existence before him, with possibilities of an unlimited development into the likeness of the Son of God, then it is easy to understand how the heart of God should have longed to rescue and save them, and how Christ should have been willing to leave His place amidst the heavenly glory and submit to the agony and shame of Calvary. If the grandeur of Christ's nature and office was the ground of the apostle's firm assurance concerning the life beyond the grave, on the other hand the fact of the life beyond the grave makes it possible for us to receive, with believing and adoring hearts, the revelation of divine love and mercy which is made to us in His cross.

There is surely no little comfort and encourage ment in this great truth for those who are conscious of the weakness and imperfectness of the character which they at present show. How many of us are there who are not often burdened by the fact that we come so far short of the standard at which we are aiming, and that our progress toward it is so fitful and so slow?"Is it worth while, "we some times ask ourselves, "to struggle on, when we have thus far made so little progress and when the goal of our hearts' desires is still so distant?"Ah but let us remember that we have yet to put on immortality. The work which Christ has under taken to do for us, is not to be accomplished here. For its fulfilment we must wait till He shall sum mon us to the spheres of life into which He Him self has passed. There, by and by, we shall receive the answer to our prayers, we shall attain the fulfilment of our hopes. As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Not only all sin, but all im perfection, will be left behind. We shall see Him, we shall be like Him, and we shall be satisfied.

And here is the motive for unwearied, self-deny ing, lifelong labor for the salvation of our fellow men, - the motive of all missionary work, the motive of all humane and Christian activity. Not merely is it a blessed thing to relieve the present misery of those who are in need; to teach them and help them to make life purer, brighter, and richer in enjoyment; not merely does he deserve well of mankind, who does anything to promote the progress of the world in knowledge, happiness, and virtue. The great motive which appeals to us as Christians, as disciples of the one divine Master, as those who hold the faith which was so splendidly maintained by the apostle Paul, - the great motive of Christian fidelity and zeal is in the fact that our fellow-men, as well as we, are immortal beings, for whom the life of this world is to be followed by an endless life in worlds beyond. It is well to have a care for men's bodies, but the soul is of infinitely greater value than the body. And the greatest need of men to-day, in our own land and in heathen lands, is such a knowledge of God as will renew their souls and awaken in them a true spiritual life. It is on moral and religious truth that all civilization rests, and we are trying to erect a building without a foundation, when we under take to civilize or elevate our fellow-men without imparting to them the truth, as it has come to us by the lips and life of Jesus Christ. Let us not forget this in our work among the needy and ignorant at our own doors. Let us not forget it when the call comes to help in sending the gospel to the other side of the globe. We are dealing with immortal beings who, even while we are speaking of them and praying for them, are swiftly passing to the judgment-seat of God. We cannot be too prompt, we cannot be too earnest, in our efforts to carry or to send to them the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ. In that lies the secret of life in the best and highest sense, - a noble, useful, happy life on earth, and a life of glory, honor, and immortality beyond the grave.

And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto Him, Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way' Jesus saith unto him, I am the way... no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.

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