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"«"Tis life, whereof our nerves are scant,
Oh, life, not death, for which we pant;
TENNYSON, The Two Voices. “It can hardly be gain for us to die, till it is Christ for us to live.”
Pres. Bascom, Philosophy of Religion, page 187. “Sleep is a death; O make me try,
By sleeping, what it is to die:
Sir Thomas BROWNE, Evening Hymn. “O living will that shalt endure
When all that seems shall suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock,
A voice as unto him that hears,
A cry above the conquer'd years
The truths that never can be proved
In Memoriam, cxxxi.
THE CHRIST'S TREATMENT OF DEATH.
“Jesus said unto her: I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die." — St. John, xi. 25, 26.
It is only from great inspired natures that we hear so contradictory words as these. It is not until we rise somewhat above the level of ordinary thought, that we perceive the doubleness, or twofoldness, that invests life, the assertion of which yields apparent opposition in language. In one breath, Christ says that if a man dies and believes in Him, he shall live ; and in the next breath He says, that whosoever liveth and believeth on Him shall never die. Language could not be made more violently contradictory; believers shall never die; dead believers shall live ; yet every docile reader of the Bible, coming on such a passage, feels that it contains a truth too subtle to be grasped with words. Language attempts it, but is turned hither and thither in vain attempts to embody the meaning, and the result is wild and contradictory statements. But the very ambiguity of the language is an indication of the value of the truth hidden underneath it. When the strata of the rocks are twisted and upturned, the miner looks for gold, deeming that in the convulsions that so disposed
them, a vein of the precious metal may have been thrown up from the lower deep.
And not only is there a certain blindness in the treatment of the subject, but the subject itself is a mystery. We see but one side, or, as it were, the gate-way; beyond, all is uncertainty and darkness. But this blindness and apparent contradiction has its ground in us, in our feeble capacity to understand and to believe. To the Christ it was clear and radiant truth. He was dealing with the actual fact of death. Women were weeping for their dead brother before him. It was no time for fine, mystical talk, for ambiguous words of comfort, and it was this very desire to administer a higher comfort, that made his words seem strange and doubtful. In order to get at their meaning, we must keep in mind that Christ was drawing comfort for these afflicted friends, not from the old sources, but from Himself. Martha has expressed her faith in the common doctrine of the resurrection at the last day. Christ does not deny nor assent to it, but passes over it, as though it had little power to assuage the actual suffering of death. If it be true, it is a far-off event, ages hence, at the last day ; it hardly touches the present fact of death. It has nothing definite, immediate, or specially consolatory in its character, being simply an affirmation of future existence. So little power had it, that Martha did not think of it, till led to it by Christ's question. She doubtless shared the vague belief of the Jews, that “ her brother would ascend some time or other on angels' wings into a place somewhere above the stars ;” but how could that comfort her? She could not bridge the gulf of time and space between herself and that event. She could get from it no assurance that her brother would ever be known by her; that the ties sundered by death would ever be joined again. There her brother lay in the tomb, dead, fast passing to corruption, soon to become as the dust of the earth, and there he would lie for ages, dead; herself soon to die and lie beside him, and sleep the long sleep of utter forgetfulness. What comfort is there here for yearning human love that longs for nearness and response? God's love may wait patient through ages, because ages are nothing to Him, but human love is impatient, because it is human and under finite conditions. We cannot endure that the object of our love should be beyond our knowledge and reach, and the bitterness of death springs from this fact of utter separation and apparent loss. A future, general resurrection, is only a slight mitigation of this suffering, because its operation is so distant and vague. Our little ones die — children that we scarcely endure to have out of our sight; the winter day seems long if they are absent, and the journey wears tediously away that separates us from their caresses; when these die, it is small comfort to know that ages upon ages hence, when great gulfs of change and place are passed, they and we shall live again. Instead of dwelling on that, we cling to the form and mementos spared by death; we visit their graves and keep alive the past instead of making alive the present. Christ, there by the