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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 9 out of 10

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does not make a summer--appears to have been the only exception; and
he probably was absent, or, if present, was silent. He did 'not
consent'; but we are not told that he opposed. That ill-omened
unanimity measures the nation's sin. Flagrant injustice and corruption
in high places is possible only when society as a whole is corrupt or
indifferent to corruption. This prejudging of a case from hatred of
the accused as a destroyer of sacred tradition, and this hunting for
evidence to bolster up a foregone conclusion, are preeminently the
vices of ecclesiastical tribunals and not of Jewish Sanhedrim or Papal
Inquisition only. Where judges look for witnesses for the prosecution,
plenty will be found, ready to curry favour by lies. The eagerness to
find witnesses against Jesus is witness for Him, as showing that
nothing in His life or teaching was sufficient to warrant their
murderous purpose. His judges condemn themselves in seeking grounds to
condemn Him, for they thereby show that their real motive was personal
spite, or, as Caiaphas suggested, political expediency.

The single specimen of the worthless evidence given may be either a
piece of misunderstanding or of malicious twisting of innocent words;
nor can we decide whether the witnesses contradicted one another or
each himself. The former is the more probable, as the fundamental
principle of the Jewish law of evidence ('two or three witnesses')
would, in that case, rule out the testimony. The saying which they
garble meant the very opposite of what they made it mean. It
represented Jesus as the restorer of that which Israel should destroy.
It referred to His body which is the true Temple; but the symbolic
temple 'made with hands' is so inseparably connected with the real,
that the fate of the one determines that of the other. Strangely
significant, therefore, is it, that the rulers heard again, though
distorted, at that moment when they were on their trial, the
far-reaching sentence, which might have taught them that in slaying
Jesus they were throwing down the Temple and all which centred in it,
and that by His resurrection, His own act, He would build up again a
new polity, which yet was but the old transfigured, even 'the Church,
which is His body.' His work destroys nothing but 'the works of the
devil.' He is the restorer of the divine ordinances and gifts which
men destroy, and His death and resurrection bring back in nobler form
all the good things lost by sin, 'the desolations of many
generations.' The history of all subsequent attacks on Christ is
mirrored here. The foregone conclusion, the evidence sought as an
after-thought to give a colourable pretext, the material found by
twisting His teaching, the blindness which accuses Him of destroying
what He restores, and fancies itself as preserving what it is
destroying, have all reappeared over and over again.

Our Lord's silence is not only that of meekness, 'as a sheep before
her shearers is dumb.' It is the silence of innocence, and, if we may
use the word concerning Him, of scorn. He will not defend Himself to
such judges, nor stoop to repel evidence which they knew to be
worthless. But there is also something very solemn and judicial in His
locked lips. They had ever been ready to open in words of loving
wisdom; but now they are fast closed, and this is the penalty for
despising, that He ceases to speak. Deaf ears make a dumb Christ, What
will happen when Jesus and His judges change places, as they will one
day do? When He says to each, 'Answerest thou nothing? What is it
which these, thy sins, witness against thee?' each will be silent with
the consciousness of guilt and of just condemnation by His all-knowing

II. Christ's majestic witness to Himself received with a shriek of
condemnation. What a supreme moment that was when the head of the
hierarchy put this question and received the unambiguous answer! The
veriest impostor asserting Messiahship had a right to have his claims
examined; but a howl of hypocritical horror is all which Christ's
evoke. The high priest knew well enough what Christ's answer would be.
Why, then, did he not begin by questioning Jesus, and do without the
witnesses? Probably because the council wished to find some pretext
for His condemnation without bringing up the real reason; for it
looked ugly to condemn a man for claiming to be Messias, and to do it
without examining His credentials. The failure, however, of the false
witnesses compelled the council to 'show their hands,' and to hear and
reject our Lord solemnly and, so to speak, officially, laying His
assertion of dignity and office before them, as the tribunal charged
with the duty of examining His proofs. The question is so definite as
to imply a pretty full and accurate knowledge of our Lord's teaching
about Himself. It embraces two points--office and nature; for 'the
Christ' and 'the Son of the Blessed' are not equivalents. The latter
title points to our Lord's declarations that He was the Son of God,
and is an instance of the later Jewish superstition which avoided
using the divine name. Loving faith delights in the name of the Lord.
Dead formalism changes reverence into dread, and will not speak it.

Sham reverence, feigned ignorance, affected wish for information, the
false show of judicial impartiality, and other lies and vices not a
few, are condensed in the question; and the fact that the judge had to
ask it and hear the answer, is an instance of a divine purpose working
through evil men, and compelling reluctant lips to speak words the
meaning and bearing of which they little know. Jesus could not leave
such a challenge unanswered. Silence then would have been abandonment
of His claims. It was fitting that the representatives of the nation
should, at that decisive moment, hear Him declare Himself Messiah. It
was not fitting that He should be condemned on any other ground. In
that answer, and its reception by the council, the nation's rejection
of Jesus is, as it were, focused and compressed. This was the end of
centuries of training by miracle, prophet and psalmist--the saddest
instance in man's long, sad history of his awful power to frustrate
God's patient educating!

Our Lord's majestic 'I am,' in one word answers both parts of the
question, and then passes on, with strange calm and dignity, to point
onwards to the time when the criminal will be the judge, and the
judges will stand at His bar. 'The Son of Man,' His ordinary
designation of Himself, implies His true manhood, and His
representative character, as perfect man, or, to use modern language,
the 'realised ideal' of humanity. In the present connection, its
employment in the same sentence as His assertion that He is the Son of
God goes deep into the mystery of His twofold nature, and declares
that His manhood had a supernatural origin and wielded divine
prerogatives. Accordingly there follows the explicit prediction of His
assumption of the highest of these after His death. The Cross was as
plain to Him as ever; but beyond it gleamed the crown and the throne.
He anticipates 'sitting on the right hand of power,' which implies
repose, enthronement, judicature, investiture with omnipotence, and
administration of the universe. He anticipates 'coming in the clouds
of heaven,' which distinctly claims to be the future Judge of the
world. His hearers could scarcely fail to discern the reference to
Daniel's prophecy.

Was ever the irony of history more pungently exemplified than in an
Annas and Caiaphas holding up hands of horror at the 'blasphemies' of
Jesus? They rightly took His words to mean more than the claim of
Messiahship as popularly understood. To say that He was the Christ was
not 'blasphemy,' but a claim demanding examination; but to say that
He, the Son of Man, was Son of God and supreme Judge was so, according
to their canons. How unconsciously the exclamation, 'What need we
further witnesses?' betrays the purpose for which the witnesses had
been sought, as being simply His condemnation! They were 'needed' to
compass His death, which the council now gleefully feels to be
secured. So with precipitate unanimity they vote. And this was
Israel's welcome to their King, and the outcome of all their history!
And it was the destruction of the national life. That howl of
condemnation pronounced sentence on themselves and on the whole order
of which they were the heads. The prisoner's eyes alone saw then what
we and all men may see now--the handwriting on the wall of the high
priest's palace: 'Weighed in the balance, and found wanting.'

III. The savage mockers and the patient Christ (verse 65). There is an
evident antithesis between the 'all' of verse 64 and the 'some' of
verse 65, which shows that the inflictors of the indignities were
certain members of the council, whose fury carried them beyond all
bounds of decency. The subsequent mention of the 'servants' confirms
this, especially when we adopt the more accurate rendering of the
Revised Version, 'received Him with blows.' Mark's account, then, is
this: that, as soon as the unanimous howl of condemnation had beep
uttered, some of the 'judges'(!) fell upon Jesus with spitting and
clumsy ridicule and downright violence, and that afterwards He was
handed over to the underlings, who were not slow to copy the example
set them at the upper end of the hall.

It was not an ignorant mob who thus answered His claims, but the
leaders and teachers--the _creme de la creme_ of the nation. A wild
beast lurks below the Pharisee's long robes and phylacteries; and the
more that men have changed a living belief in religion for a formal
profession, the more fiercely antagonistic are they to every attempt
to realise its precepts and hopes. The 'religious' men who mock Jesus
in the name of traditional religion are by no means an extinct
species. It is of little use to shudder at the blind cruelty of dead
scribes and priests. Let us rather remember that the seeds of their
sins are in us all, and take care to check their growth. What a
volcano of hellish passion bursts out here! Spitting expresses
disgust; blinding and asking for the names of the smiters is a clumsy
attempt at wit and ridicule; buffeting is the last unrestrained form
of hate and malice. The world has always paid its teachers and
benefactors in such coin; but all other examples pale before this
saddest, transcendent instance. Love is repaid by hate; a whole nation
is blind to supreme and unspotted goodness; teachers steeped in 'law
and prophets' cannot see Him of and for whom law and prophets
witnessed and were, when He stands before them. The sin of sins is the
failure to recognise Jesus for what He is. His person and claims are
the touchstone which tries every beholder of what sort He is.

How wonderful the silent patience of Jesus! He withholds not His face
'from shame and spitting.' He gives 'His back to the smiters.' Meek
endurance and passive submission are not all which we have to behold
there. This is more than an uncomplaining martyr. This is the
sacrifice for the world's sin; and His bearing of all that men can
inflict is more than heroism. It is redeeming love. His sad, loving
eyes, wide open below their bandage, saw and pitied each rude smiter,
even as He sees us all. They were and are eyes of infinite tenderness,
ready to beam forgiveness; but they were and are the eyes of the
Judge, who sees and repays His foes, as those who smite Him will one
day find out.


'And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation
with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus,
and carried Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. 2. And Pilate asked
Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And He answering said unto him,
Thou sayest it. 3. And the chief priests accused Him of many things:
but He answered nothing. 4. And Pilate asked Him again, saying,
Answerest Thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against
Thee. 6. But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled. 6.
Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they
desired. 7. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with
them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in
the insurrection. 8. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire
him to do as he had ever done unto them. 9. But Pilate answered them,
saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 10. For
he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. 11. But the
chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas
unto them. 12. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will
ye then that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13. And they cried out again, Crucify Him. 14. Then Pilate said unto
them, Why, what evil hath He done? And they cried out the more
exceedingly, Crucify Him. 15. And so Pilate, willing to content the
people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had
scourged Him, to be crucified. 16. And the soldiers led Him away into
the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
17. And they clothed Him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns,
and put it about His head, 18. And began to salute Him, Hail, King of
the Jews! 19. And they smote Him on the head with a reed, and did spit
upon Him, and bowing their knees worshipped Him. 20. And when they had
mocked Him they took off the purple from Him, and put His own clothes
on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.'--Mark xv. 1-20.

The so-called trial of Jesus by the rulers turned entirely on his
claim to be Messias; His examination by Pilate turns entirely on His
claim to be king. The two claims are indeed one, but the political
aspect is distinguishable from the higher one; and it was the Jewish
rulers' trick to push it exclusively into prominence before Pilate, in
the hope that he might see in the claim an incipient insurrection, and
might mercilessly stamp it out. It was a new part for them to play to
hand over leaders of revolt to the Roman authorities, and a governor
with any common sense must have suspected that there was something hid
below such unusual loyalty. What a moment of degradation and of
treason against Israel's sacredest hopes that was when its rulers
dragged Jesus to Pilate on such a charge! Mark follows the same method
of condensation and discarding of all but the essentials, as in the
other parts of his narrative. He brings out three points--the hearing
before Pilate, the popular vote for Barabbas, and the soldiers'

I. The true King at the bar of the apparent ruler (verses 1-6). The
contrast between appearance and reality was never more strongly drawn
than when Jesus stood as a prisoner before Pilate. The One is
helpless, bound, alone; the other invested with all the externals of
power. But which is the stronger? and in which hand is the sceptre? On
the lowest view of the contrast, it is ideas _versus_ swords. On the
higher and truer, it is the incarnate God, mighty because voluntarily
weak, and man 'dressed in a little brief authority,' and weak because
insolently 'making his power his god.' Impotence, fancying itself
strong, assumes sovereign authority over omnipotence clothed in
weakness. The phantom ruler sits in judgment on the true King. Pilate
holding Christ's life in his hand is the crowning paradox of history,
and the mystery of self-abasing love. One exercise of the Prisoner's
will and His chains would have snapped, and the governor lain dead on
the marble 'pavement.'

The two hearings are parallel, and yet contrasted. In each there are
two stages--the self-attestation of Jesus and the accusations of
others; but the order is different. The rulers begin with the
witnesses, and, foiled there, fall back on Christ's own answer,
Pilate, with Roman directness and a touch of contempt for the
accusers, goes straight to the point, and first questions Jesus. His
question was simply as to our Lord's regal pretensions. He cared
nothing about Jewish 'superstitions' unless they threatened political
disturbance. It was nothing to him whether or no one crazy fanatic
more fancied himself 'the Messiah,' whatever that might be. Was He
going to fight?--that was all which Pilate had to look after. He is
the very type of the hard, practical Roman, with a 'practical' man's
contempt for ideas and sentiments, sceptical as to the possibility of
getting hold of 'truth,' and too careless to wait for an answer to his
question about it; loftily ignorant of and indifferent to the notions
of the troublesome people that he ruled, but alive to the necessity of
keeping them in good humour, and unscrupulous enough to strain justice
and unhesitatingly to sacrifice so small a thing as an innocent life
to content them.

What could such a man see in Jesus but a harmless visionary? He had
evidently made up his mind that there was no mischief in Him, or he
would not have questioned Him as to His kingship. It was a new thing
for the rulers to hand over dangerous patriots, and Pilate had
experience enough to suspect that such unusual loyalty concealed
something else, and that if Jesus had really been an insurrectionary
leader, He would never have fallen into Pilate's power. Accordingly,
he gives no serious attention to the case, and his question has a
certain half-amused, half-pitying ring about it. 'Thou a king? '--poor
helpless peasant! A strange specimen of royalty this! How constantly
the same blindness is repeated, and the strong things of this world
despise the weak, and material power smiles pityingly at the helpless
impotence of the principles of Christ's gospel, which yet will one day
shatter it to fragments, like a potter's vessel! The phantom ruler
judges the real King to be a powerless shadow, while himself is the
shadow and the other the substance. There are plenty of Pilates to-day
who judge and misjudge the King of Israel.

The silence of Jesus in regard to the eager accusations corresponds to
His silence before the false witnesses. The same reason dictated both.
His silence is His most eloquent answer. It calmly passes by all these
charges by envenomed tongues as needing no reply, and as utterly
irrelevant. Answered, they would have lived in the Gospels;
unanswered, they are buried. Christ can afford to let many of His foes
alone. Contradictions and confutations keep slanders and heresies
above water, which the law of gravitation would dispose of if they
were left alone.

Pilate's wonder might and should have led him further. It should have
prompted to further inquiry, and that might have issued in clearer
knowledge. It was the little glimmer of light at the far-off end of
his cavern, which, travelled towards, might have brought him into free
air and broad day. One great part of his crime was neglecting the
faint monitions of which he was conscious. His light may have been
dim, but it would have brightened; and he quenched it. He stands as a
tremendous example of possibilities missed, and of the tragedy of a
soul that has looked on Jesus, and has not yielded to the impressions
made on him by the sight.

II. The people's favourite (verses 7-15), 'Barabbas' means 'son of the
father,' His very name is a kind of caricature of the 'Son of the
Blessed,' and his character and actions present in gross form the sort
of Messias whom the nation really wanted. He had headed some one of
the many small riots against Rome which were perpetually sputtering up
and being trampled out by an armed heel. There had been bloodshed, in
which he had himself taken part ('a murderer,' Acts iii. 14). And this
coarse, red-handed desperado is the people's favourite, because he
embodied their notions and aspirations, and had been bold enough to do
what every man of them would have done if he had dared. He thought and
felt, as they did, that freedom was to be won by the sword. The
popular hero is as a mirror which reflects the popular mind. He echoes
the popular voice, a little improved or exaggerated. Jesus had taught
what the people did not care to hear, and given blessings which even
the recipients soon forgot, and lived a life whose 'beauty of
holiness' oppressed and rebuked the common life of men. What chance
had truth and kindness and purity against the sort of bravery that
slashes with a sword, and is not elevated above the mob by
inconvenient reach of thought or beauty of character? Even now, after
nineteen centuries of Christ's influence have modified the popular
ideals, what chance have they? Are the popular 'heroes' of Christian
nations saints, teachers, lovers of men, in whom their Christ-likeness
is the thing venerated? The old saying that the voice of the people is
the voice of God receives an instructive commentary in the vote for
Barabbas and against Jesus. That was what a plebiscite for the
discovery of the people's favourite came to. What a reliable method of
finding the best man universal suffrage, manipulated by wirepullers
like these priests, is! and how wise the people are who let it guide
their judgments, or still wiser, who fret their lives out in angling
for its approval! Better be condemned with Jesus than adopted with

That fatal choice revealed the character of the choosers, both in
their hostility and admiration; for excellence hated shows what we
ought to be and are not, and grossness or vice admired shows what we
would fain be if we dared. It was the tragic sign that Israel had not
learned the rudiments of the lesson which 'at sundry times and in
divers manners' God had been teaching them. In it the nation renounced
its Messianic hopes, and with its own mouth pronounced its own
sentence. It convicted them of insensibility to the highest truth, of
blindness to the most effulgent light, of ingratitude for the richest
gifts. It is the supreme instance of short-lived, unintelligent
emotion, inasmuch as many who on Friday joined in the roar, 'Crucify
Him!' had on Sunday shouted 'Hosanna!' till they were hoarse.

Pilate plays a cowardly and unrighteous part in the affair, and tries
to make amends to himself for his politic surrender of a man whom he
knew to be innocent, by taunts and sarcasm. He seems to see a chance
to release Jesus, if he can persuade the mob to name Him as the
prisoner to be set free, according to custom. His first proposal to
them was apparently dictated by a genuine interest in Jesus, and a
complete conviction that Rome had nothing to fear from this 'King.'
But there are also in the question a sneer at such pauper royalty, as
it looked to him, and a kind of scornful condescension in
acknowledging the mob's right of choice. He consults their wishes for
once, but there is haughty consciousness of mastery in his way of
doing it. His appeal is to the people, as against the priests whose
motives he had penetrated. But in his very effort to save Jesus he
condemns himself; for, if he knew that they had delivered Christ for
envy, his plain duty was to set the prisoner free, as innocent of the
only crime of which he ought to take cognisance. So his attempt to
shift the responsibility off his own shoulders is a piece of cowardice
and a dereliction of duty. His second question plunges him deeper in
the mire. The people had a right to decide which was to be released,
but none to settle the fate of Jesus. To put that in their hands was
an unconditional surrender by Pilate, and the sneer in 'whom _ye_ call
the King of the Jews' is a poor attempt to hide from them and himself
that he is afraid of them. Mark puts his finger on the damning blot in
Pilate's conduct when he says that his motive for condemning Jesus was
his wish to content the people. The life of one poor Jew was a small
price to pay for popularity. So he let policy outweigh righteousness,
and, in spite of his own clear conviction, did an innocent man to
death. That would be his reading of his act, and, doubtless, it did
not trouble his conscience much or long, but he would leave the
judgment-seat tolerably satisfied with his morning's work. How little
he knew what he had done! In his ignorance lies his palliation. His
crime was great, but his guilt is to be measured by his light, and
that was small. He prostituted justice for his own ends, and he did
not follow out the dawnings of light that would have led him to know
Jesus. Therefore he did the most awful thing in the world's history.
Let us learn the lesson which he teaches!

III. The soldiers' mockery (verses 16-20). This is characteristically
different from that of the rulers, who jeered at His claim to
supernatural enlightenment, and bade Him show His Messiahship by
naming His smiters. The rough legionaries knew nothing about a
Messiah, but it seemed to them a good jest that this poor, scourged
prisoner should have called Himself a King, and so they proceed to
make coarse and clumsy merriment over it. It is like the wild beast
playing with its prey before killing it. The laughter is not only
rough, but cruel. There was no pity for the Victim 'bleeding from the
Roman rods,' and soon to die. And the absence of any personal hatred
made this mockery more hideous. Jesus was nothing to them but a
prisoner whom they were to crucify, and their mockery was sheer
brutality and savage delight in torturing. The sport is too good to be
kept by a few, so the whole band is gathered to enjoy it. How they
would troop to the place! They get hold of some robe or cloth of the
imperial colour, and of some flexible shoots of some thorny plant, and
out of these they fashion a burlesque of royal trappings. Then they
shout, as they would have done to Caesar, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'
repeating again with clumsy iteration the stale jest which seems to
them so exquisite. Then their mood changes, and naked ferocity takes
the place of ironical reverence. Plucking the mock sceptre, the reed,
from His passive hand, they strike the thorn-crowned Head with it, and
spit on Him, while they bow in mock reverence before Him, and at last,
when tired of their sport, tear off the purple, and lead him away to
the Cross.

If we think of who He was who bore all this, and of why He bore it, we
may well bow not the knee but the heart, in endless love and
thankfulness. If we think of the mockers--rude Roman soldiers, who
probably could not understand a word of what they heard on the streets
of Jerusalem--we shall do rightly to remember our Lord's own plea for
them, 'they know not what they do,' and reflect that many of us with
more knowledge do really sin more against the King than they did.
Their insult was an unconscious prophecy. They foretold the basis of
His dominion by the crown of thorns, and its character by the sceptre
of reed, and its extent by their mocking salutations; for His Kingship
is founded in suffering, wielded with gentleness, and to Him every
knee shall one day bow, and every tongue confess that the King of the
Jews is monarch of mankind.


'And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of
the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear His cross. 22.
And they bring Him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being
interpreted, The place of a skull. 23. And they gave Him to drink wine
mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. 24. And when they had
crucified Him, they parted His garments, casting lots upon them, what
every man should take. 25. And it was the third hour, and they
crucified Him. 26. And the superscription of His accusation was
written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27. And with Him they crucify two
thieves; the one on His right hand, and the other on His left. 28. And
the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And He was numbered with the
transgressors. 29. And they that passed by railed on Him, wagging
their heads, and saying, Ah, Thou that destroyest the temple, and
buildest it in three days, 30. Save Thyself, and come down from the
cross. 31. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among
themselves with the scribes, He saved others; Himself He cannot save.
32. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we
may see and believe. And they that were crucified with Him reviled
Him. 33. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the
whole land until the ninth hour. 34. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried
with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is,
being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? 35. And
some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, He
calleth Elias. 36. And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar,
and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us
see whether Elias will come to take Him down. 37. And Jesus cried with
a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38. And the veil of the temple
was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. 39. And when the
centurion, which stood over against Him, saw that He so cried out, and
gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.'--Mark
xv. 21-39.

The narrative of the crucifixion is, in Mark's hands, almost entirely
a record of what was done to Jesus, and scarcely touches what was done
by Him. We are shown the executioners, the jeering rabble, the
triumphant priests, the fellow-sufferers reviling; but the only
glimpses we get of Him are His refusal of the stupefying draught, His
loud cries, and His giving up the ghost. The narrative is perfectly
calm, as well as reverently reticent. It would have been well if our
religious literature had copied the example, and treated the solemn
scene in the same fashion. Mark's inartificial style of linking long
paragraphs with the simple 'and' is peculiarly observable here, where
every verse but vv. 30 and 32, which are both quotations, begins with
it. The whole section is one long sentence, each member of which adds
a fresh touch to the tragic picture. The monotonous repetition of
'and,' 'and,' 'and,' gives the effect of an endless succession of the
wares of sorrow, pain, and contumely which broke over that sacred
head. We shall do best simply to note each billow as it breaks.

The first point is the impressing of Simon to bear the Cross. That was
not dictated by compassion so much as by impatience. Apparently the
weight was too heavy for Jesus, and the pace could be quickened by
making the first man who could be laid hold of help to carry the load.
Mark adds that Simon was the 'father of Alexander and Rufus,' whom he
supposes to need no introduction to his readers. There is a Rufus
mentioned in Romans xvi. 13 as being, with his mother, members of the
Roman Church. Mark's Gospel has many traces of being primarily
intended for Romans. Possibly these two Rufuses are the same; and the
conjecture may be allowable that the father's fortuitous association
with the crucifixion led to the conversion of himself and his family,
and that his sons were of more importance or fame in the Church than
he was. Perhaps, too, he is the 'Simeon called Niger' (bronzed by the
hot African sun) who was a prophet of Antioch, and stands by the side
of a Cyrenian (Acts xiii. 1). It is singular that he should be the
only one of all the actors in the crucifixion who is named; and the
fact suggests his subsequent connection with the Church. If so, the
seeking love of God found him by a strange way. On what apparently
trivial accidents a life may be pivoted, and how much may depend on
turning to right or left in a walk! In this bewildering network of
interlaced events, which each ramifies in so many directions, the only
safety is to keep fast hold of God's hand and to take good care of the
purity of our motives, and let results alone.

The next verse brings us to Golgotha, which is translated by the three
Evangelists, who give it as meaning 'the place of a skull.' The name
may have been given to the place of execution with grim
suggestiveness; or, more probably, Conder's suggested identification
is plausible, which points to a little, rounded, skull-shaped knoll,
close outside the northern wall, as the site of the crucifixion. In
that case, the name would originally describe the form of the height,
and be retained as specially significant in view of its use as the
place of execution. That was the 'place' to which Israel led its King!
The place of death becomes a place of life, and from the mournful soil
where the bones of evildoers lay bleaching in the sun springs the
fountain of water of life.

Arrived at that doleful place, a small touch of kindness breaks the
monotony of cruelty, if it be not merely apart of the ordinary routine
of executions. The stupefying potion would diminish, but would
therefore protract, the pain, and was possibly given for the latter
rather than the former effect. But Jesus 'received it not.' He will
not, by any act of His, lessen the bitterness. He will drink to the
dregs the cup which His Father hath given Him, and therefore He will
not drink of the numbing draught. It is a small matter comparatively,
but it is all of a piece with the greater things. The spirit of His
whole course of voluntary, cheerful endurance of all the sorrows
needful to redeem the world, is expressed in His silent turning away
from the draught which might have alleviated physical suffering, but
at the cost of dulling conscious surrender.

The act of crucifixion is but named in a subsidiary clause, as if the
writer turned away, with eyes veiled in reverence, from the sight of
man's utmost sin and Christ's utmost mystery of suffering love. He can
describe the attendant circumstances, but his pen refuses to dwell
upon the central fact. The highest art and the simplest natural
feeling both know that the fewest words are the most eloquent. He will
not expressly mention the indignity done to the sacred Body in which
'dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead,' but leaves it to be inferred
from the parting of Christ's raiment, the executioner's perquisite. He
had nothing else belonging to Him, and of even that poor property He
is spoiled. According to John's more detailed account, the soldiers
made an equal parting of His garments except the seamless robe, for
which they threw lots. So the 'parting' applies to one portion, and
the 'casting lots' to another. The incident teaches two things: on the
one hand, the stolid indifference of the soldiers, who had crucified
many a Jew, and went about their awful work as a mere piece of routine
duty; and, on the other hand, the depth of the abasement and shame to
which Jesus bowed for our sakes. 'Naked shall I return thither' was
true in the most literal sense of Him whose earthly life began with
His laying aside His garments of divine glory, and ended with rude
legionaries parting 'His raiment' among them.

Mark alone tells the hour at which Jesus was nailed to the Cross
(verse 25). Matthew and Luke specify the sixth and ninth hours as the
times of the darkness and of the death; but to Mark we owe our
knowledge of the fact that for six slow hours Jesus hung there,
tasting death drop by drop. At any moment of all these sorrow-laden
moments He could have come down from the Cross, if He would. At each,
a fresh exercise of His loving will to redeem kept Him there.

The writing on the Cross is given here in the most condensed fashion
(verse 26). The one important point is that His 'accusation'
was--'King of the Jews.' It was the official statement of the reason
for His crucifixion, put there by Pilate as a double-barrelled
sarcasm, hitting both Jesus and the nation. The rulers winced under
the taunt, and tried to get it softened; but Pilate sought to make up
for his unrighteous facility in yielding Jesus to death, by obstinacy
and jeers. So the inscription hung there, a truth deeper than its
author or its angry readers knew, and a prophecy which has not
received all its fulfilment yet.

The narrative comes back, in verse 27, to the sad catalogue of the
insults heaped on Jesus. Verse 28 is probably spurious here, as the
Revised Version takes it to be; but it truly expresses the intention
of the crucifixion of the thieves as being to put Him in the same
class as they, and to suggest that He was a ringleader, pre-eminent in
evil. Possibly the two robbers may have been part of Barabbas' band,
who had been brigands disguised as patriots; and, if so, the insult
was all the greater. But, in any case, the meaning of it was to bring
Him down, in the eyes of beholders, to the level of vulgar criminals.
If a Cranmer or a Latimer had been bound to the stake with a
housebreaker or a cut-throat, that would have been a feeble image of
the malicious contumely thus flung at Jesus; but His love had
identified Him with the worst sinners in a far deeper and more real
way, and not a crime had stained these men's hands, but its weight
pressed on Him. He numbered Himself with transgressors, that they may
be numbered with His saints.

Then follows (verses 29-32) the threefold mockery by people, priests,
and fellow-sufferers. That is spread over three hours, and is all
which Mark has to tell of them. Other Evangelists give us words spoken
by Jesus; but this narrative has only one of the seven words from the
Cross, and gives us the picture rather of the silent Sufferer, bearing
in meek resolution all that men can lay on Him. Both pictures are
true, for the words are too few to make notable breaches in the
silence. The mockery harps on the old themes, and witnesses at once
the malicious cruelty of the mockers and the innocence of the Victim,
at whom even such malice could find nothing to fling except these
stale taunts. The chance passengers, of whom there would be a stream
to and from the adjacent city gate, 'wag their heads' in gratified and
fierce hate. The calumny of the discredited witnesses, although even
the biased judges had not dared to treat it as true, has lodged in the
popular mind, and been accepted as proved. Lies are not killed when
they are shown to be lies. They travel faster than truth. Ears were
greedily open for the false witnesses' evidence which had been closed
to Christ's gracious teaching. The charge that He was a would-be
destroyer of the Temple obliterated all remembrance of miracles and
benefits, and fanned the fire of hatred in men whose zeal for the
Temple was a substitute for religion. Are there any of them left
nowadays--people who have no real heart-hold of Christianity, but are
fiercely antagonistic to supposed destroyers of its externals, and not
over-particular to the evidence against them? These mockers thought
that Christ's being fastened to the Cross was a _reductio ad absurdum_
of His claim to build the Temple. How little they knew that it led
straight to that rebuilding, or that they, and not He, were indeed the
destroyers of the holy house which they thought that they were
honouring, and were really making 'desolate'!

The priests do not take up the people's mockery, for they know that it
is based upon a falsehood; but they scoff at His miracles, which they
assume to be disproved by His crucifixion. Their venomous gibe is
profoundly true, and goes to the very heart of the gospel. Precisely
because 'He saved others,' therefore 'Himself He cannot save'--not, as
they thought, for want of power, but because His will was fixed to
obey the Father and to redeem His brethren, and therefore He must die
and cannot deliver Himself. But the necessity and inability both
depend on His will. The priests, however, take up the other part of
the people's scoff. They unite the two grounds of condemnation in the
names 'the Christ, the King of Israel,' and think that both are
disproved by His hanging there. But the Cross is the throne of the
King. A sacrificial death is the true work of the Messiah of law,
prophecy, and psalm; and because He did not come down from the Cross,
therefore is He 'crowned with glory and honour' in heaven, and rules
over grateful and redeemed hearts on earth.

The midday darkness lasted three hours, during which no word or
incident is recorded. It was nature divinely draped in mourning over
the sin of sins, the most tragic of deaths. It was a symbol of the
eclipse of the Light of the world; but ere He died it passed, and the
sun shone on His expiring head, in token that His death scattered our
darkness and poured day on our sad night. The solemn silence was
broken at last by that loud cry, the utterance of strangely blended
consciousness of possession of God and of abandonment by Him, the
depths of which we can never fathom. But this we know: that our sins,
not His, wove the veil which separated Him from His God. Such
separation is the real death. Where cold analysis is out of place,
reverent gratitude may draw near. Let us adore, for what we can
understand speaks of a love which has taken on itself the iniquity of
us all. Let us silently adore, for all words are weaker than that
mystery of love.

The first hearers of that cry misunderstood it, or cruelly pretended
to do so, in order to find fresh food for mockery. 'Eloi' sounded like
enough to 'Elijah' to suggest to some of the flinty hearts around a
travesty of the piteous appeal. They must have been Jews, for the
soldiers knew nothing about the prophet; and if they were Scribes,
they could scarcely fail to recognise the reference to the
Twenty-second Psalm, and to understand the cry. But the opportunity
for one more cruelty was too tempting to be resisted, and savage
laughter was man's response to the most pitiful prayer ever uttered.
One man in all that crowd had a small touch of human pity, and,
dipping a sponge in the sour drink provided for the soldiers, reached
it up to the parched lips. That was no stupefying draught, and was
accepted. Matthew's account is more detailed, and represents the words
spoken as intended to hinder even that solitary bit of kindness.

The end was near. The lips, moistened by the 'vinegar,' opened once
more in that loud cry which both showed undiminished vitality and
conscious victory; and then He 'gave up the ghost,' _sending away_ His
spirit, and dying, not because the prolonged agony had exhausted His
energy, but because He chose to die, He entered through the gate of
death as a conqueror, and burst its bars when He went in, and not only
when He came out.

His death rent the Temple veil. The innermost chamber of the Divine
Presence is open now, and sinful men have 'access with confidence by
the faith of Him,' to every place whither He has gone before. Right
into the secret of God's pavilion we can go, now and here, knowledge
and faith and love treading the path which Jesus has opened, and
coming to the Father by Him. Bight into the blaze of the glory we
shall go hereafter; for He has gone to prepare a place for us, and
when He overcame the sharpness of death He opened the gate of heaven
to all believers.

Jews looked on, unconcerned and unconvinced by the pathos and triumph
of such a death. But the rough soldier who commanded the executioners
had no prejudices or hatred to blind his eyes and ossify his heart.
The sight made its natural impression on him; and his exclamation,
though not to be taken as a Christian confession or as using the
phrase 'Son of God' in its deepest meaning, is yet the beginning of
light. Perhaps, as he went thoughtfully to his barrack that afternoon,
the process began which led him at last to repeat his first
exclamation with deepened meaning and true faith. May we all gaze on
that Cross, with fuller knowledge, with firm trust, and endless love!


'And they compel one Simon, a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of
the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear His
Cross.'--Mark xv. 21.

How little these soldiers knew that they were making this man
immortal! What a strange fate that is which has befallen chose persons
in the Gospel narrative, who for an instant came into contact with
Jesus Christ. Like ships passing athwart the white ghostlike splendour
of moonlight on the sea, they gleam silvery pure for a moment as they
cross its broad belt, and then are swallowed up again in the darkness.

This man Simon, fortuitously, as men say, meeting the little
procession at the gate of the city, for an instant is caught in the
radiance of the light, and stands out visible for evermore to all the
world; and then sinks into the blackness, and we know no more about
him. This brief glimpse tells us very little, and yet the man and his
act and its consequences may be worth thinking about.

He was a Cyrenian; that is, he was a Jew by descent, probably born,
and certainly resident, for purposes of commerce, in Cyrene, on the
North African coast of the Mediterranean. No doubt he had come up to
Jerusalem for the Passover; and like very many of the strangers who
flocked to the Holy City for the feast, met some difficulty in finding
accommodation in the city, and so was obliged to go to lodge in one of
the outlying villages. From this lodging he is coming in, in the
morning, knowing nothing about Christ nor His trial, knowing nothing
of what he is about to meet, and happens to see the procession as it
is passing out of the gate. He is by the centurion impressed to help
the fainting Christ to carry the heavy Cross. He probably thought
Jesus a common criminal, and would resent the task laid upon him by
the rough authority of the officer in command. But he was gradually
touched into some kind of sympathy; drawn closer and closer, as we
suppose, as he looked upon this dying meekness; and at last, yielded
to the soul-conquering power of Christ.

Tradition says so, and the reasons for supposing that it was right may
be very simply stated. The description of him in our text as 'the
father of Alexander and Rufus' shows that, by the time when Mark
wrote, his two sons were members of the Christian community, and had
attained some eminence in it. A Rufus is mentioned in the salutations
in Paul's Epistle to the Romans, as being 'elect in the Lord,' that is
to say, 'eminent,' and his mother is associated in the greeting, and
commended as having been motherly to Paul as well as to Rufus. Now, if
we remember that Mark's Gospel was probably written in Rome, and for
Roman Christians, the conjecture seems a very reasonable one that the
Rufus here was the Rufus of the Epistle to the Romans. If so, it would
seem that the family had been gathered into the fold of the Church,
and in all probability, therefore, the father with them.

Then there is another little morsel of possible evidence which may
just be noticed. We find in the Acts of the Apostles, in the list of
the prophets and teachers in the Church at Antioch, a 'Simon, who is
called Niger' (that is, black, the hot African sun having tanned his
countenance, perhaps), and side by side with him one 'Lucius of
Cyrene,' from which place we know that several of the original brave
preachers to the Gentiles in Antioch came. It is possible that this
may be our Simon, and that he who was the last to join the band of
disciples during the Master's life and learned courage at the Cross
was among the first to apprehend the world-wide destination of the
Gospel, and to bear it beyond the narrow bounds of his nation.

At all events, I think we may, with something like confidence, believe
that his glimpse of Christ on that morning and his contact with the
suffering Saviour ended in his acceptance of Him as his Christ, and in
his bearing in a truer sense the Cross after Him.

And so I seek now to gather some of the lessons that seem to me to
arise from this incident.

I. First, the greatness of trifles. If Simon had started from the
little village where he lodged five minutes earlier or later, if he
had walked a little faster or slower, if he had happened to be lodging
on the other side of Jerusalem, or if the whim had taken him to go in
at another gate, or if the centurion's eye had not chanced to alight
on him in the crowd, or if the centurion's fancy had picked out
somebody else to carry the Cross, then all his life would have been
different. And so it is always. You go down one turning rather than
another, and your whole career is coloured thereby. You miss a train,
and you escape death. Our lives are like the Cornish rocking stones,
pivoted on little points. The most apparently insignificant things
have a strange knack of suddenly developing unexpected consequences,
and turning out to be, not small things at all, but great and decisive
and fruitful.

Let us then look with ever fresh wonder on this marvellous contexture
of human life, and on Him that moulds it all to His own perfect
purposes. Let us bring the highest and largest principles to bear on
the smallest events and circumstances, for you can never tell which of
these is going to turn out a revolutionary and formative influence in
your life. And if the highest Christian principle is not brought to
bear upon the trifles, depend upon it, it will never be brought to
bear upon the mighty things. The most part of every life is made up of
trifles, and unless these are ruled by the highest motives, life,
which is divided into grains like the sand, will have gone by, while
we are waiting for the great events which we think worthy of being
regulated by lofty principles. 'Take care of the pence and the pounds
will take care of themselves.'

Look after the trifles, for the law of life is like that which is laid
down by the Psalmist about the Kingdom of Jesus Christ: 'There shall
be a handful of corn in the earth,' a little seed sown in an
apparently ungenial place 'on the top of the mountains.' Ay! but this
will come of it, 'The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon,' and the
great harvest of benediction or of curse, of joy or of sorrow, will
come from the minute seeds that are sown in the great trifles of our
daily life.

Let us learn the lesson, too, of quiet confidence in Him in whose
hands the whole puzzling, overwhelming mystery lies. If a man once
begins to think of how utterly incalculable the consequences of the
smallest and most commonplace of his deeds may be, how they may run
out into all eternity, and like divergent lines may enclose a space
that becomes larger and wider the further they travel; if, I say, a
man once begins to indulge in thoughts like these, it is difficult for
him to keep himself calm and sane at all, unless he believes in the
great loving Providence that lies above all, and shapes the
vicissitude and mystery of life. We can leave all in His hands--and if
we are wise we shall do so--to whom _great_ and _small_ are terms that
have no meaning; and who looks upon men's lives, not according to the
apparent magnitude of the deeds with which they are filled, but simply
according to the motive from which, and the purpose towards which,
these deeds were done.

II. Then, still further, take this other lesson, which lies very
plainly here--the blessedness and honour of helping Jesus Christ. If
we turn to the story of the Crucifixion, in John's Gospel, we find
that the narratives of the three other Gospels are, in some points,
supplemented by it. In reference to our Lord's bearing of the Cross,
we are informed by John that when He left the judgment hall He was
carrying it Himself, as was the custom with criminals under the Roman
law. The heavy cross was laid on the shoulder, at the intersection of
its arms and stem, one of the arms hanging down in front of the
bearer's body, and the long upright trailing behind.

Apparently our Lord's physical strength, sorely tried by a night of
excitement and the hearings in the High priest's palace and before
Pilate, as well as by the scourging, was unequal to the task of
carrying, albeit for that short passage, the heavy weight. And there
is a little hint of that sort in the context. In the verse before my
text we read, 'They led Jesus out to crucify Him,' and in the verse
after, 'they bring,' or _bear_ 'Him to the place Golgotha,' as if,
when the procession began, they led Him, and before it ended they had
to carry Him, His weakness having become such that He Himself could
not sustain the weight of His cross or of His own enfeebled limbs. So,
with some touch of pity in their rude hearts, or more likely with
professional impatience of delay, and eager to get their task over,
the soldiers lay hold of this stranger, press him into the service and
make him carry the heavy upright, which trailed on the ground behind
Jesus. And so they pass on to the place of execution.

Very reverently, and with few words, one would touch upon the physical
weakness of the Master. Still, it does not do us any harm to try to
realise how very marked was the collapse of His physical nature, and
to remember that that collapse was not entirely owing to the pressure
upon Him of the mere fact of physical death; and that it was still
less a failure of His will, or like the abject cowardice of some
criminals who have had to be dragged to the scaffold, and helped up
its steps; but that the reason why His flesh failed was very largely
because there was laid upon Him the mysterious burden of the world's
sin. Christ's demeanour in the act of death, in such singular contrast
to the calm heroism and strength of hundreds who have drawn all their
heroism and strength from Him, suggests to us that, looking upon His
sufferings, we look upon something the significance of which does not
lie on the surface; and the extreme pressure of which is to be
accounted for by that blessed and yet solemn truth of prophecy and
Gospel alike--'The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.'

But, apart from that, which does not enter properly into my present
contemplations, let us remember that though changed in form, very
truly and really in substance, this blessedness and honour of helping
Jesus Christ is given to us; and is demanded from us, too, if we are
His disciples. He is despised and set at nought still. He is crucified
afresh still. There are many men in this day who scoff at Him, mock
Him, deny His claims, seek to cast Him down from His throne, rebel
against His dominion. It is an easy thing to be a disciple, when all
the crowd is crying 'Hosanna!' It is a much harder thing to be a
disciple when the crowd, or even when the influential cultivated
opinion of a generation, is crying 'Crucify Him! crucify Him!' And
some of you Christian men and women have to learn the lesson that if
you are to be Christians you must be Christ's companions when His back
is at the wall as well as when men are exalting and honouring Him,
that it is your business to confess Him when men deny Him, to stand by
Him when men forsake Him, to avow Him when the avowal is likely to
bring contempt upon you from some people, and thus, in a very real
sense, to bear His Cross after Him. 'Let us go forth unto Him without
the camp, bearing His reproach';--the tail end of His Cross, which is
the lightest! He has borne the heaviest end on His own shoulders; but
we have to ally ourselves with that suffering and despised Christ if
we are to be His disciples.

I do not dwell upon the lesson often drawn from this story, as if it
taught us to 'take up _our_ cross daily and follow Him.' That is
another matter, and yet is closely connected with that about which I
speak; but what I say is, Christ's Cross has to be carried to-day; and
if we have not found out that it has, let us ask ourselves if we are
Christians at all. There will be hostility, alienation, a comparative
coolness, and absence of a full sense of sympathy with you, in many
people, if you are a true Christian. You will come in for a share of
contempt from the wise and the cultivated of this generation, as in
all generations. The mud that is thrown after the Master will spatter
your faces too, to some extent; and if you are walking with Him you
will be, to the extent of your communion with Him, objects of the
aversion with which many men regard Him. Stand to your colours. Do not
be ashamed of Him in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

And there is yet another way in which this honour of helping the Lord
is given to us. As in His weakness He needed some one to aid Him to
bear His Cross, so in His glory He needs our help to carry out the
purposes for which the Cross was borne. The paradox of a man's
carrying the Cross of Him who carried the world's burden is repeated
in another form. He needs nothing, and yet He needs us. He needs
nothing, and yet He needed that ass which was tethered at 'the place
where two ways met,' in order to ride into Jerusalem upon it. He does
not need man's help, and yet He does need it, and He asks for it. And
though He bore Simon the Cyrenian's sins 'in His own body on the
tree,' He needed Simon the Cyrenian to help Him to bear the tree, and
He needs us to help Him to spread throughout the world the blessed
consequences of that Cross and bitter Passion. So to us all is granted
the honour, and from us all are required the sacrifice and the
service, of helping the suffering Saviour.

III. Another of the lessons which may very briefly be drawn from this
story is that of the perpetual recompense and record of the humblest
Christian work. There were different degrees of criminality, and
different degrees of sympathy with Him, if I may use the word, in that
crowd that stood round the Master. The criminality varied from the
highest degree of violent malignity in the Scribes and Pharisees, down
to the lowest point of ignorance, and therefore all but entire
innocence, on the part of the Roman legionaries, who were merely the
mechanical instruments of the order given, and stolidly 'watched Him
there,' with eyes which saw nothing.

On the other hand, there were all grades of service and help and
sympathy, from the vague emotions of the crowd who beat their breasts,
and the pity of the daughters of Jerusalem, or the kindly-meant help
of the soldiers, who would have moistened the parched lips, to the
heroic love of the women at the Cross, whose ministry was not ended
even with His life. But surely the most blessed share in that day's
tragedy was reserved for Simon, whose bearing of the Cross may have
been compulsory at first, but became, ere it was ended, willing
service. But whatever were the degrees of recognition of Christ's
character, and of sympathy with the meaning of His sufferings, yet the
smallest and most transient impulse of loving gratitude that went out
towards Him was rewarded then, and is rewarded for ever, by blessed
results in the heart that feels it.

Besides these results, service for Christ is recompensed, as in the
instance before us, by a perpetual memorial. How little Simon knew
that 'wherever in the whole world this gospel was preached, there
also, this that _he_ had done should be told for a memorial of _him_!'
How little he understood when he went back to his rural lodging that
night, that he had written his name high up on the tablet of the
world's memory, to be legible for ever. Why, men have fretted their
whole lives away to win what this man won, and knew nothing of--one
line in the chronicle of fame.

So we may say, it shall be always, 'I will never forget any of their
works.' We may not leave our deeds inscribed in any records that men
can read. What of that, If they are written in letters of light in the
'Lamb's Book of Life,' to be read out by Him before His Father and the
holy angels, in that last great day? We may not leave any separable
traces of our services, any more than the little brook that comes down
some gulley on the hillside flows separate from its sisters, with whom
it has coalesced, in the bed of the great river, or in the rolling,
boundless ocean, What of that so long as the work, in its
consequences, shall last? Men that sow some great prairie broadcast
cannot go into the harvest-field and say, 'I sowed the seed from which
that ear came, and you the seed from which this one sprang.' But the
waving abundance belongs to them all, and each may be sure that his
work survives and is glorified there,--'that he that soweth and he
that reapeth may rejoice together.' So a perpetual remembrance is sure
for the smallest Christian service.

IV. The last lesson that I would draw is, let us learn from this
incident the blessed results of contact with the suffering Christ.
Simon the Cyrenian apparently knew nothing about Jesus Christ when the
Cross was laid on his shoulders. He would be reluctant to undertake
the humiliating task, and would plod along behind Him for a while,
sullen and discontented, but by degrees be touched by more of
sympathy, and get closer and closer to the Sufferer. And if he stood
by the Cross when it was fixed, and saw all that transpired there, no
wonder if, at last, after more or less protracted thought and search,
he came to understand who He was that he had helped, and to yield
himself to Him wholly.

Yes! dear brethren, Christ's great saying, 'I, if I be lifted up, will
draw all men unto Me,' began to be fulfilled when He began to be
lifted up. The centurion, the thief, this man Simon, by looking on the
Cross, learned the Crucified.

And it is the only way by which any of us will ever learn the true
mystery and miracle of Christ's great and loving Being and work. I
beseech you, take your places there behind Him, near His Cross; gazing
upon Him till your hearts melt, and you, too, learn that He is your
Lord, and your Saviour, and your God. The Cross of Jesus Christ
divides men into classes as the Last Day will. It, too, parts
men--'sheep' to the right hand, 'goats' to the left. If there was a
penitent, there was an impenitent thief; if there was a convinced
centurion, there were gambling soldiers; if there were hearts touched
with compassion, there were mockers who took His very agonies and
flung them in His face as a refutation of His claims. On the day when
that Cross was reared on Calvary it began to be what it has been ever
since, and is at this moment to every soul who hears the Gospel, 'a
savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.' Contact with the
suffering Christ will either bind you to His service, and fill you
with His Spirit, or it will harden your hearts, and make you tenfold
more selfish--that is to say, 'tenfold more a child of hell'--than you
were before you saw and heard of that divine meekness of the suffering
Christ. Look to Him, I beseech you, who bears what none can help Him
to carry, the burden of the world's sin. Let Him bear yours, and yield
to Him your grateful obedience, and then take up your cross daily, and
bear the light burden of self-denying service to Him who has borne the
heavy load of sin for you and all mankind.


'And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of
James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and
anoint Him. 2. And very early in the morning, the first day of the
week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3. And
they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the
door of the sepulchre? 4. And when they looked, they saw that the
stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 6. And entering into the
sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in
a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6. And he saith unto
them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was
crucified: He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they
laid Him. 7. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He
goeth before yon into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto
you. 8. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for
they trembled and were amazed: neither said they anything to any man;
for they were afraid. 9. Now, when Jesus was risen early the first day
of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had
cast seven devils. 10. And she went and told them that had been with
Him, as they mourned and wept. 11. And they, when they had heard that
He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. 12. After that
He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went
into the country. 13. And they went and told it unto the residue:
neither believed they them.'--Mark xvi. 1-13.

It is not my business here to discuss questions of harmonising or of
criticism. I have only to deal with the narrative as it stands. Its
peculiar character is very plain. The manner in which the first
disciples learned the fact of the Resurrection, and the disbelief with
which they received it, much rather than the Resurrection itself, come
into view in this section. The disciples, and not the risen Lord, are
shown us. There is nothing here of the earthquake, or of the
descending angel, or of the terrified guard, or of our Lord's
appearance to the women. The two appearances to Mary Magdalene and to
the travellers to Emmaus, which, in the hands of John and Luke, are so
pathetic and rich, are here mentioned with the utmost brevity, for the
sake chiefly of insisting on the disbelief of the disciples who heard
of them. Mark's theme is mainly what they thought of the testimony to
the Resurrection.

I. He shows us, first, bewildered love and sorrow. We leave the
question whether this group of women is the same as that of which Luke
records that Joanna was one, as well as the other puzzle as to
harmonising the notes of time in the Evangelists. May not the
difference between the time of starting and that of arrival solve some
of the difficulty? When all the notes are more or less vague, and
refer to the time of transition from dark to day, when every moment
partakes of both and may be differently described as belonging to
either, is precision to be expected? In the whirl of agitation of that
morning, would any one be at leisure to take much note of the exact
minute? Are not these 'discrepancies' much more valuable as
confirmation of the story than precise accord would have been? It is
better to try to understand the feelings of that little band than to
carp at such trifles.

Sorrow wakes early, and love is impatient to bring its tribute. So we
can see these three women, leaving their abode as soon as the doleful
grey of morning permitted, stealing through the silent streets, and
reaching the rock-cut tomb while the sun was rising over Olivet. Where
were Salome's ambitious hopes for her two sons now? Dead, and buried
in the Master's grave. The completeness of the women's despair, as
well as the faithfulness of their love, is witnessed by their purpose.
They had come to anoint the body of Him to whom in life they had
ministered. They had no thought of a resurrection, plainly as they had
been told of it. The waves of sorrow had washed the remembrance of His
assurances on that subject clean out of their minds. Truth that is
only half understood, however plainly spoken, is always forgotten when
the time to apply it comes. We are told that the disbelief of the
disciples in the Resurrection, after Christ's plain predictions of it,
is 'psychologically impossible.' Such big words are imposing, but the
objection is shallow. These disciples are not the only people who
forgot in the hour of need the thing which it most concerned them to
remember, and let the clouds of sorrow hide starry promises which
would have turned mourning into dancing, and night into day. Christ's
sayings about His resurrection were not understood in their, as it
appears to us, obvious meaning when spoken. No wonder, then, that they
were not expected to be fulfilled in their obvious meaning when He was
dead. We shall have a word to say presently about the value of the
fact that there was no anticipation of resurrection on the part of the
disciples. For the present it is enough to note how these three loving
souls confess their hopelessness by their errand. Did they not know,
too, that Joseph and Nicodemus had been beforehand with them in their
labour of love? Apparently not. It might easily happen, in the
confusion and dispersion, that no knowledge of this had reached them;
or perhaps sorrow and agitation had driven it out of their memories;
or perhaps they felt that, whether others had done the same before or
no, they must do it too, not because the loved form needed it, but
because their hearts needed to do it. It was the love which must
serve, not calculation of necessity, which loaded their hands with
costly spices. The living Christ was pleased with the 'odour of a
sweet smell,' from the needless spices, meant to re-anoint the dead
Christ, and accepted the purpose, though it came from ignorance and
was never carried out, since its deepest root was love, genuine,
though bewildered.

The same absence of 'calm practical common sense' is seen in the too
late consideration, which never occurred to the three women till they
were getting near the tomb, as to how to get into it. They do not seem
to have heard of the guard; but they know that the stone is too heavy
for them to move, and none of the men among the disciples had been
taken into their confidence. 'Why did they not think of that before?
what a want of foresight!' says the cool observer. 'How beautifully
true to nature!' says a wiser judgment. To obey the impulse of love
and sorrow without thinking, and then to be arrested on their road by
a difficulty, which they might have thought of at first, but did not
till they were close to it, is surely just what might have been
expected of such mourners. Mark gives a graphic picture in that one
word 'looking up,' and follows it with picturesque present tenses.
They had been looking down or at each other in perplexity, when they
lifted their eyes to the tomb, which was possibly on an eminence. What
a flash of wonder would pass through their minds when they saw it
open! What that might signify they would be eager to hurry to find
out; but, at all events, their difficulty was at an end. When love to
Christ is brought to a stand in its venturous enterprises by
difficulties occurring for the first time to the mind, it is well to
go close up to them; and it often happens that when we do, and look
steadily at them, we see that they are rolled away, and the passage
cleared which we feared was hopelessly barred.

II. The calm herald of the Resurrection and the amazed hearers.
Apparently Mary Magdalene had turned back as soon as she saw the
opened tomb, and hurried to tell that the body had been carried off,
as she supposed. The guard had also probably fled before this; and so
the other two women enter the vestibule, and there find the angel.
Sometimes one angel, sometimes two, sometimes none, were visible
there. The variation in their numbers in the various narratives is not
to be regarded as an instance of 'discrepancy.' Many angels hovered
round the spot where the greatest wonder of the universe was to be
seen, 'eagerly desiring to look into' that grave. The beholder's eye
may have determined their visibility. Their number may have
fluctuated. Mark does not use the word 'angel' at all, but leaves us
to infer what manner of being he was who first proclaimed the

He tells of his youth, his attitude, and his attire. The angelic life
is vigorous, progressive, buoyant, and alien from decay. Immortal
youth belongs to them who 'excel in strength' because they 'do his
commandments.' That waiting minister shows us what the children of the
Resurrection shall be, and so his presence as well as his speech
expounds the blessed mystery of our life in the risen Lord. His serene
attitude of sitting 'on the right side' is not only a vivid touch of
description, but is significant of restfulness and fixed
contemplation, as well as of the calmness of a higher life. That still
watcher knows too much to be agitated; but the less he is moved, the
more he adores. His quiet contrasts with and heightens the impression
of the storm of conflicting feelings in the women's tremulous natures.
His garments symbolise purity and repose. How sharply the difference
between heaven and earth is given in the last words of verse 5! They
were 'amazed,' swept out of themselves in an ecstasy of bewilderment
in which hope had no place. Terror, surprise, curiosity, wonder, blank
incapacity to know what all this meant, made chaos in them.

The angel's words are a succession of short sentences, which have a
certain dignity, and break up the astounding revelation he has to make
into small pieces, which the women's bewildered minds can grasp. He
calms their tumult of spirit. He shows them that he knows their
errand. He adoringly names his Lord and theirs by the names recalling
His manhood, His lowly home, and His ignominious death. He lingers on
the thought, to him covering so profound a mystery of divine love,
that his Lord had been born, had lived in the obscure village, and
died on the Cross. Then, in one word, he proclaims the stupendous fact
of His resurrection as His own act--'He is risen.' This crown of all
miracles, which brings life and immortality to light, and changes the
whole outlook of humanity, which changes the Cross into victory, and
without which Christianity is a dream and a ruin, is announced in a
single word--the mightiest ever spoken save by Christ's own lips. It
was fitting that angel lips should proclaim the Resurrection, as they
did the Nativity, though in either 'He taketh not hold of angels,' and
they had but a secondary share in the blessings. Yet that empty grave
opened to 'principalities and powers in heavenly places' a new
unfolding of the manifold wisdom and love of God.

The angel--a true evangelist--does not linger on the wondrous
intimation, but points to the vacant place, which would have been so
drear but for his previous words, and bids them approach to verify his
assurance, and with reverent wonder to gaze on the hallowed and now
happy spot. A moment is granted for feeling to overflow, and certainty
to be attained, and then the women are sent on their errand. Even the
joy of that gaze is not to be selfishly prolonged, while others are
sitting in sorrow for want of what they know. That is the law for all
the Christian life. First make sure work of one's own possession of
the truth, and then hasten to tell it to those who need it.

'And Peter'--Mark alone gives us this. The other Evangelists might
pass it by; but how could Peter ever forget the balm which that
message of pardon and restoration brought to him, and how could
Peter's mouthpiece leave it out? Is there anything in the Gospels more
beautiful, or fuller of long-suffering and thoughtful love, than that
message from the risen Saviour to the denier? And how delicate the
love which, by calling him Peter, not Simon, reinstates him in his
official position by anticipation, even though in the subsequent full
restoration scene by the lake he is thrice called Simon, before the
complete effacement of the triple denial by the triple confession!

Galilee is named as the rendezvous, and the word employed, 'goeth
before you,' is appropriate to the Shepherd in front of His flock.
They had been 'scattered,' but are to be drawn together again. He is
to 'precede' them there, thus lightly indicating the new form of their
relations to Him, marked during the forty days by a distance which
prepared for his final withdrawal. Galilee was the home of most of
them, and had been the field of His most continuous labours. There
would be many disciples there, who would gather to see their risen
Lord ('five hundred at once'); and there, rather than in Jerusalem
which had slain Him, was it fitting that He should show Himself to His
friends. The appearances in Jerusalem were all within a week (if we
except the Ascension), and the connection in which Mark introduces
them (if verse 14 be his) seems to treat them as forced on Christ by
the disciples' unbelief, rather than as His original intention. It
looks as if He meant to show Himself in the city only to one or two,
such as Mary, Peter, and some others, but to reserve His more public
appearance for Galilee.

How did the women receive the message? Mark represents them as
trembling in body and in an ecstasy in mind, and as hurrying away
silent with terror. Matthew says that they were full of 'fear and
great joy,' and went in haste to tell the disciples. In the whirl of
feeling, there were opposites blended or succeeding one another; and
the one Evangelist lays hold of one set, and the other of the other.
It is as impossible to catalogue the swift emotions of such a moment
as to separate and tabulate the hues of sunrise. The silence which
Mark tells of can only refer to their demeanour as they 'fled.' His
object is to bring out the very imperfect credence which, at the best,
was given to the testimony that Christ was risen, and to paint the
tumult of feeling in the breasts of its first recipients. His picture
is taken from a different angle from Matthew's; but Matthew's contains
the same elements, for he speaks of 'fear,' though he completes it by

III. The incredulity of the disciples. The two appearances to Mary
Magdalene and the travellers to Emmaus are introduced mainly to record
the unbelief of the disciples. A strange choice that was, of the woman
who had been rescued from so low a debasement, to be first to see Him!
But her former degradation was the measure of her love. Longing eyes,
that have been washed clean by many a tear of penitent gratitude, are
purged to see Jesus; and a yearning heart ever brings Him near. The
unbelief of the story of the two from Emmaus seems to conflict with
Luke's account, which tells that they were met by the news of Christ's
appearance to Simon. But the two statements are not contradictory. If
we remember the excitement and confusion of mind in which they were,
we shall not wonder if belief and unbelief followed each other, like
the flow and recoil of the waves. One moment they were on the crest of
the billows, and saw land ahead; the next they were down in the
trough, and saw only the melancholy surge. The very fact that Peter
was believed, might make them disbelieve the travellers; for how could
Jesus have been in Jerusalem and Emmaus at so nearly the same time?

However the two narratives be reconciled, it remains obvious that the
first disciples did not believe the first witnesses of the
Resurrection, and that their unbelief is an important fact. It bears
very distinctly on the worth of their subsequent conviction. It has
special bearing on the most modern form of disbelief in the
Resurrection, which accounts for the belief of the first disciples on
the ground that they expected Christ to rise, and that they then
persuaded themselves, in all good faith, that He had risen. That
monstrous theory is vulnerable at all points, but one sufficient
answer is--the disciples did not expect Christ to rise again, and were
so far from it that they did not believe that He had risen when they
were told it. Their original unbelief is a strong argument for the
reliableness of their final faith. What raised them from the stupor of
despair and incredulity? Only one answer is 'psychologically'
reasonable: they at last believed because they saw. It is incredible
that they were conscious deceivers; for such lives as they lived, and
such a gospel as they preached, never came from liars. It is as
incredible that they were unconsciously mistaken; for they were wholly
unprepared for the Resurrection, and sturdily disbelieved all
witnesses for it, till they saw with their own eyes, and had 'many
infallible proofs.' Let us be thankful for their unbelief and its
record, and let us seek to possess the blessing of those 'that have
not seen, and yet have believed!'


'And entering Into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the
right side, clothed in a long white garment.'--Mark xvi. 5.

Many great truths concerning Christ's death, and its worth to higher
orders of being, are taught by the presence of that angel form, clad
in the whiteness of his own God-given purity, sitting in restful
contemplation in the dark house where the body of Jesus had lain.
'Which things the angels desire to look into.' Many precious lessons
of consolation and hope, too, lie in the wonderful words which he
spake from his Lord and theirs to the weeping waiting women. But to
touch upon these ever so slightly would lead us too far from our more
immediate purpose.

It strikes one as very remarkable that this superhuman being should be
described as a '_young_ man.' Immortal youth, with all of buoyant
energy and fresh power which that attribute suggests, belongs to those
beings whom Scripture faintly shows as our elder brethren. No waste
decays their strength, no change robs them of forces which have ceased
to increase. For them there never comes a period when memory is more
than hope. Age cannot wither them. As one of our modern mystics has
said, hiding imaginative spiritualism under a crust of hard, dry
matter-of-fact, 'In heaven the oldest angels are the youngest.'

What is true of them is true of God's children, who are 'accounted
worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead,' for
'they are equal unto the angels.' For believing and loving souls,
death too is a birth. All who pass through it to God, shall, in deeper
meaning than lay in the words at first, 'return unto the days of their
youth'; and when the end comes, and they are 'clothed with their house
from heaven,' they shall stand by the throne, like him who sat in the
sepulchre, clothed with lustrous light and radiant with unchanging

Such a conception of the condition of the dead in Christ may be
followed out in detail into many very elevating and strengthening
thoughts. Let me attempt to set forth some of these now.

I. The life of the faithful dead is eternal progress towards infinite

For body and for spirit the life of earth is a definite whole, with
distinct stages, which succeed each other in a well-marked order.
There are youth, and maturity, and decay--the slow climbing to the
narrow summit, a brief moment there in the streaming sunshine, and
then a sure and gradual descent into the shadows beneath. The same
equable and constant motion urges the orb of our lives from morning to
noon, and from noon to evening. The glory of the dawning day, with its
golden clouds and its dewy freshness, its new awakened hopes and its
unworn vigour, climbs by silent, inevitable stages to the hot noon.
But its ardours flame but for a moment; but for a moment does the sun
poise itself on the meridian line, and the short shadow point to the
pole. The inexorable revolution goes on, and in due time come the
mists and dying purples of evening and the blackness of night. The
same progress which brings April's perfumes burns them in the censer
of the hot summer, and buries summer beneath the falling leaves, and
covers its grave with winter's snow.

'Everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.'

So the life of man, being under the law of growth, is, in all its
parts, subject to the consequent necessity of decline. And very
swiftly does the direction change from ascending to descending. At
first, and for a little while, the motion of the dancing stream, which
broadens as it runs, and bears us past fields each brighter and more
enamelled with flowers than the one before it, is joyous; but the slow
current becomes awful as we are swept along when we would fain moor
and land--and to some of us it comes to be tragic and dreadful at
last, as we sit helpless, and see the shore rush past and hear the
roar of the falls in our ears, like some poor wretch caught in the
glassy smoothness above Niagara, who has flung down the oars, and,
clutching the gunwale with idle hands, sits effortless and breathless
till the plunge comes. Many a despairing voice has prayed as the sands
ran out, and joys fled, 'Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon; and thou,
Moon, in the valley of Ajalon,' but in vain. Once the wish was
answered; but, for all other fighters, the twelve hours of the day
must suffice for victory and for joy. Time devours his own children.
The morning hours come to us with full hands and give, the evening
hours come with empty hands and take; so that at the last 'naked shall
he return to go as he came.' Our earthly life runs through its
successive stages, and for it, in body and mind, old age is the child
of youth.

But the perfect life of the dead in Christ has but one phase, youth.
It is growth without a limit and without decline. To say that they are
ever young is the same thing as to say that their being never reaches
its climax, that it is ever but entering on its glory; that is, as we
have said, that the true conception of their life is that of eternal
progress towards infinite perfection.

For what is the goal to which they tend? The likeness of God in
Christ--all His wisdom, His love, His holiness. He is all theirs, and
His whole perfection is to be transfused into their growing greatness.
'He is made unto them of God. wisdom, and righteousness, and salvation
and redemption,' nor can they cease to grow till they have outgrown
Jesus and exhausted God. On the one hand is infinite perfection,
destined to be imparted to the redeemed spirit. On the other hand is a
capability of indefinite assimilation to, by reception of, that
infinite perfection. We have no reason to set bounds to the possible
expansion of the human spirit. If only there be fitting circumstances
and an adequate impulse, it may have an endless growth. Such
circumstances and such impulse are given in the loving presence of
Christ in glory. Therefore we look for an eternal life which shall
never reach a point beyond which no advance is possible. 'The path of
the just' in that higher state 'shineth more and more,' and never
touches the zenith. Here we float upon a landlocked lake, and on every
side soon reach the bounding land; but there we are on a shoreless
ocean, and never hear any voice that says, 'Hitherto shalt thou come,
and no farther.' Christ will be ever before us, the yet unattained end
of our desires; Christ will be ever above us, fairer, wiser, holier,
than we; after unsummed eternities of advance there will yet stretch
before us a shining way that leads to Him. The language, which was
often breathed by us on earth in tones of plaintive confession, will
be spoken in heaven in gladness, 'Not as though I had attained, either
were perfect, but I follow after,' The promise that was spoken by Him
in regard to our mortality will be repeated by Him in respect to our
celestial being, 'I am come that they might have life, and that they
might have it _more abundantly_.' And as this advance has no natural
limit, either in regard to our Pattern or to ourselves, there will be
no reverse direction to ensue. Here the one process has its two
opposite parts; the same impulse carries up to the summit and forces
down from it. But it is not so then. There growth will never merge
into decay, nor exacting hours come to recall the gifts, which their
free-handed sisters gave.

They who live in Christ, beyond the grave, begin with a relative
perfection. They are thereby rendered capable of more complete
Christ-likeness. The eye, by gazing into the day, becomes more
recipient of more light; the spirit cleaves closer to a Christ more
fully apprehended and more deeply loved; the whole being, like a plant
reaching up to the sunlight, grows by its yearning towards the light,
and by the light towards which it yearns--lifts a stronger stem and
spreads a broader leaf, and opens into immortal flowers tinted by the
sunlight with its own colours. This blessed and eternal growth towards
Him whom we possess, to begin with, and never can exhaust, is the
perpetual youth of God's redeemed.

We ought not to think of those whom we have loved and lost as if they
had gone, carrying with them declining powers, and still bearing the
marks of this inevitable law of stagnation, and then of decay, under
which they groaned here. Think of them rather as having, if they sleep
in Jesus, reversed all this, as having carried with them, indeed, all
the gifts of matured experience and ripened wisdom which the slow
years bring, but likewise as having left behind all the weariness of
accomplished aims, the monotony of a formed character, the rigidity of
limbs that have ceased to grow. Think of them as receiving again from
the hands of Christ much of which they were robbed by the lapse of
years. Think of them as then crowned with loving-kindness and
satisfied with good, so that 'their youth is renewed like the
eagle's.' Think of them as again joyous, with the joy of beginning a
career, which has no term but the sum of all perfection in the
likeness of the infinite God. They rise like the song-bird, aspiring
to the heavens, circling round, and ever higher, which 'singing still
doth soar, and soaring ever singeth'--up and up through the steadfast
blue to the sun! 'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the
young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait upon the Lord shall
renew their strength.' They shall lose the marks of age as they grow
in eternity, and they who have stood before the throne the longest
shall be likest him who sat in the sepulchre young with immortal
strength, radiant with unwithering beauty.

II. The life of the faithful dead recovers and retains the best
characteristics of youth.

Each stage of our earthly course has its own peculiar characteristics,
as each zone of the world has its own vegetation and animal life. And,
for the most part, these characteristics cannot be anticipated in the
preceding stage, nor prolonged into the succeeding. To some small
extent they will bear transplanting, and he is nearest a perfect man
who carries into each period of his life some trace of the special
beauty of that which went before, making 'the child the father of the
man,' and carrying deep into old age the simple self-forgetfulness of
the child and the energy of the youth. But this can only be partially
done by any effort; and even those whose happily constituted
temperaments make it comparatively easy for them, do often carry the
weakness rather than the strength of the earlier into the later
epochs. It is easier to be always childish than to be always
childlike. The immaturity and heedlessness of youth bear carriage
better than the more precious vintages of that sunny land--its
freshness of eye and heart, its openness of mind, its energy of hand.
Even when these are in any measure retained--beautiful as they are in
old age--they are but too apt to be associated with an absence of the
excellences more proper to the later stages of life, and to involve a
want of patient judgment, of sagacious discrimination, of rooted
affections, of prudent, persistent action. Beautiful indeed it is when
the grace of the child and the strength of the young man live on in
the fathers, and when the last of life encloses all that was good in
all that went before. But miserable it is, and quite as frequent a
case, when grey hairs cover a childish brain, and an aged heart throbs
with the feverish passion of youthful blood. So for this life it is
difficult, and often not well, that youth should be prolonged into
manhood and old age.

But the thought is none the less true, that the perfection of our
being requires the reappearance and the continuance of all that was
good in each successive stage of it in the past. The brightest aspects
of youth will return to all who live in Jesus, beyond the grave, and
will be theirs for ever. Such a consideration branches out into many
happy anticipations, which we can but very cursorily touch on here.

For instance--Youth is the time for hope. The world then lies all
before us, fair and untried. We have not learnt our own weakness by
many failures, nor the dread possibilities that lie in every future.
The past is too brief to occupy us long, and its furthest point too
near to be clothed in the airy purple, which draws the eye and stirs
the heart. We are conscious of increasing powers which crave for
occupation. It seems impossible but that success and joy shall be
ours. So we live for a little while in a golden haze; we look down
from our peak upon the virgin forests of a new world, that roll away
to the shining waters in the west, and then we plunge into their mazes
to hew out a path for ourselves, to slay the wild beasts, and to find
and conquer rich lands. But soon we discover what hard work the march
is, and what monsters lurk in the leafy coverts, and what diseases
hover among the marshes, and how short a distance ahead we can see,
and how far off it is to the treasure-cities that we dreamed of; and
if at last we gain some cleared spot whence we can look forward, our
weary eyes are searching at most for a place to rest, and all our
hopes have dwindled to hopes of safety and repose. The day brings too
much toil to leave us leisure for much anticipation. The journey has
had too many failures, too many wounds, too many of our comrades left
to die in the forest glades, to allow of our expecting much. We plod
on, sometimes ready to faint, sometimes with lighter hearts, but not
any more winged by hope as in the golden prime,--unless indeed for
those of us who have fixed our hopes on God, and so get through the
march better, because, be it rough or smooth, long or short, He moves
before us to guide, and all our ways lead to Him. But even for these
there comes, before very long, a time when they are weary of hoping
for much more here, and when the light of youth fades into common day.
Be it so! They will get the faculty and the use of it back again in
far nobler fashion, when death has taken them away from all that is
transient, and faith has through death given for their possession and
their expectation, the certitudes of eternity. It will be worth while
to look forward again, when we are again standing at the beginning of
a life. It will be possible once more to hope, when disappointments
are all past. A boundless future stretching before us, of which we
know that it is all blessed, and that we shall reach all its
blessedness, will give back to hearts that have long ceased to drink
of the delusive cup which earthly hope offered to their lips, the joy
of living in a present, made bright by the certain anticipation of a
yet brighter future. Losing nothing by our constant progress, and
certain to gain all which we foresee, we shall remember and be glad,
we shall hope and be confident. With 'the past unsighed for, and the
future sure,' we shall have that magic gift, which earth's
disappointments dulled, quickened by the sure mercies of the heavens.

Again, youth has mostly a certain keenness of relish for life which
vanishes only too soon. There are plenty of our young men and women
too, of this day, no doubt, who are as _blase_ and wearied before they
are out of their 'teens as if they were fifty. So much the sadder for
them, so much the worse for the social state which breeds such
monsters. For monsters they are: there ought to be in youth a sense of
fresh wonder undimmed by familiarity, the absence of satiety, a joy in
joyful things because they are new as well as gladsome. The poignancy
of these early delights cannot long survive. Custom stales them all,
and wraps everything in its robe of ashen grey. We get used to what
was once so fresh and wonderful, and do not care very much about
anything any more. We smile pitying smiles--sadder than any tears--at
'boyish enthusiasm,' and sometimes plume ourselves on having come to
'years which bring the philosophic mind'; and all the while we know
that we have lost a great gift, which here can never come back any

But what if that eager freshness of delight may yet be ours once
again? What if the eternal youth of the heavens means, amongst other
things, that _there_ are pleasures which always satisfy but never
cloy? What if, in perpetual advance, we find and keep for ever that
ever new gladness, which here we vainly seek in perpetual distraction?
What if constant new influxes of divine blessedness, and constant new
visions of God, keep in constant exercise that sense of wonder, which
makes so great a part of the power of youth? What if, after all that
we have learned and all that we have received, we still have to say,
'It doth not yet appear what we shall be'? Then, I think, in very
profound and blessed sense, heaven would be perpetual youth.

I need not pause to speak of other characteristics of that period of
life--such as its enthusiasm, its life by impulse rather than by
reason, its buoyant energy and delight in action. All these gifts, so
little cared for when possessed, so often misused, so irrevocably gone
with a few brief years, so bitterly bewailed, will surely be found
again, where God keeps all the treasures that He gives and we let
fall. For transient enthusiasm, heaven will give us back a fervour of
love like that of the seraphs, that have burned before His throne
unconsumed and undecaying for unknown ages. For a life of instinctive
impulse, we shall titan receive a life in which impulse is ever
parallel with the highest law, and, doing only what we would, we shall
do only what we ought. For energy which wanes as the years wax, and
delight in action which is soon worn down into mechanical routine of
toil, there will be bestowed strength akin to His 'who fainteth not,
neither is weary.' All of which maturity and old age robbed us is
given back in nobler form. All the limitation and weakness which they
brought, the coldness, the monotony, the torpor, the weariness, will
drop away. But we shall keep all the precious things which they
brought us. None of the calm wisdom, the ripened knowledge, the
full-summed experience, the powers of service acquired in life's long
apprenticeship, will be taken from us.

All will be changed indeed. All will be cleansed of the impurity which
attaches to all. All will be accepted and crowned, not by reason of
its goodness, but by reason of Christ's sacrifice, which is the
channel of God's mercy. Though in themselves unworthy, and having
nothing fit for the heavens, yet the souls that trust in Jesus, the
Lord of Life, shall bear into their glory the characters which by His
grace they wrought out here on earth, transfigured and perfected, but
still the same. And to make up that full-summed completeness, will be
given to them at once the perfection of all the various stages through
which they passed on earth. The perfect man in the heavens will
include the graces of childhood, the energies of youth, the
steadfastness of manhood, the calmness of old age; as on some tropical
trees, blooming in more fertile soil and quickened by a hotter sun
than ours, you may see at once bud, blossom, and fruit--the expectancy
of spring, and the maturing promise of summer, and the fulfilled
fruition of autumn--hanging together on the unexhausted bough.

III. The faithful dead shall live in a body that cannot grow old.

Scripture assures us, I believe, that the dead in Christ are now in
full, conscious enjoyment of His presence, and of all the blessedness
that to dwell in Christ can bring to a spirit. All, then, which we
have been saying applies to the present condition of those who sleep
in Jesus. As concerning toil and trouble they take rest in sleep, as
concerning contact with an outer world they slumber untroubled by its
noise; but as concerning their communion with their Lord they, like
us, 'whether we wake or sleep, live together with Him.' But we know
too, from Scripture, that the dead in Christ wait for the resurrection
of the body, without which they cannot be perfected, nor restored to
full activity of outward life in connection with an external creation.

The lesson which we venture to draw from this text enforces the
familiar teaching of Scripture as to that body of glory--that it
cannot decay, nor grow old. In this respect, too, eternal youth may be
ours. Here we have a bodily organisation which, like all other living
bodies, goes through its appointed series of changes, wastes in
effort, and so needs reparation by food and rest, dies in growing, and
finally waxes old and dissolves. In such a house, a man cannot be ever
young. The dim eye and shaking hand, the wrinkled face and thin grey
hairs cannot but age the spirit, since they weaken its instruments.

If the redeemed of the Lord are to be always young in spirit, they
must have a body which knows no weariness, which needs no repose,
which has no necessity of dying impressed upon it. And such a body
Scripture plainly tells us will belong to those who are Christ's, at
His coming. Our present acquaintance with the conditions of life makes
that great promise seem impossible to many learned men amongst us. And
I know not that anything but acquaintance with the sure word of God
and with a risen Lord will make that seeming impossibility again a
great promise for us. If we believe it at all, I think we must believe
it because the resurrection of Jesus Christ says so, and because the
Scriptures put it into articulate words as the promise of His
resurrection. 'Ye do err,' said Christ long ago, to those who denied a
resurrection, 'not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.' Then
knowledge of the Scriptures leads to belief in the resurrection of the
dead, and the remembrance of our ignorance of the power of God
disposes of all the doubts which are raised on the supposition that
His present works are the pattern of His future ones, or the limits of
His unexhausted energy.

We are content then to fall back on Scripture words, and to believe in
the resurrection of the dead simply because it is, as we believe, told
us from God.

For all who accept the message, this hope shines clear, of a
_building_ of God imperishable and solid, when contrasted with the
_tent_ in which we dwell here--of a body 'raised in incorruption,'
'clothed with immortality,' and so, as in many another phrase,
declared to be exempt from decay, and therefore vigorous with
unchanging youth. How that comes we cannot tell. Whether because that
body of glory has no proclivity to mutation and decay, or whether the
perpetual volition and power of God counteract such tendency and give,
as the Book of Revelation says,' to eat of the tree of life which is
in the midst of the paradise of God'--matters not at all. The truth of
the promise remains, though we have no means of knowing more than the
fact, that we shall receive a body, fashioned like His who dieth no
more. There shall be no weariness nor consequent need for repose--
'they rest not day nor night.' There shall be no faintness nor
consequent craving for sustenance-'they shall hunger no more neither
thirst any more.' There shall be no disease--'the inhabitant thereof
shall no more say, I am sick,' 'neither can they die any more, for
they are equal unto the angels.'

And if all this is true, that glorious and undecaying body will then
be the equal and fit instrument of the perfected spirit, not, as it is
now, the adequate instrument only of the natural life. The deepest
emotions then will be capable of expression, nor as now, like some
rushing tide, choke the floodgates through whose narrow aperture they
try to press, and be all tossed into foam in the attempt. We shall
then seem what we are, as we shall also be what we ought. All outward
things will then be fully and clearly communicated to the spirit, for
that glorious body will be a perfect instrument of knowledge. All that
we desire to do we shall then do, nor be longer tortured with
tremulous hands which can never draw the perfect circle that we plan,
and stammering lips that will not obey the heart, and throbbing brain
that _will_ ache when we would have it clear. The ever-young spirit
will have for true yokefellow a body that cannot tire, nor grow old,
nor die.

The aged saints of God shall rise then in youthful beauty. More than
the long-vanished comeliness shall on that day rest on faces that were
here haggard with anxiety, and pinched with penury and years. There
will be no more palsied hands, no more scattered grey hairs, no more
dim and horny eyes, no more stiffened muscles and slow throbbing
hearts. 'It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.' It is sown in
decaying old age, it is raised in immortal youth. His servants shall
stand in that day among 'the young-eyed cherubim,' and be like them
for ever. So we may think of the dead in Christ.

But do not forget that Christian faith may largely do for us here what
God's grace and power will do for us in heaven, and that even now we
may possess much of this great gift of perpetual youth. If we live for
Christ by faith in Him, then may we carry with us all our days the
energy, the hope, the joy of the morning tide, and be children in evil
while men in understanding. With unworn and fresh heart we may 'bring
forth fruit in old age,' and have the crocus in the autumnal fields as
well as in the spring-time of our lives. So blessed, we may pass to a
peaceful end, because we hold His hand who makes the path smooth and
the heart quiet. Trust yourselves, my brethren, to the immortal love
and perfect work of the Divine Saviour, and by His dear might your
days will advance by peaceful stages, whereof each gathers up and
carries forward the blessings of all that went before, to a death
which shall be a birth. Its chill waters will be as a fountain of
youth from which you will rise, beautiful and strong, to begin an
immortality of growing power. A Christian life on earth solves partly,
a Christian life in heaven solves completely, the problem of perpetual
youth. For those who die in His faith and fear, 'better is the end
than the beginning, and the day of one's death than the day of one's
birth.' Christ keeps the good wine until the close of the feast.

'Such is Thy banquet, dearest Lord;
O give us grace, to cast
Our lot with Thine, to trust Thy word,
And keep our best till last.'


'They saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long
white garment; and they were aifrighted. 6. And he saith unto them, Be
not affrighted. Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is
risen; He is not here; behold the place where they laid Him.'--Mark
xvi. 5,6.

Each of the four Evangelists tells the story of the Resurrection from
his own special point of view. None of them has any record of the
actual fact, because no eye saw it. Before the earthquake and the
angelic descent, before the stone was rolled away, while the guards
perhaps slept, and before Love and Sorrow had awakened, Christ rose.
And deep silence covers the event. But in treating of the subsequent
portion of the narrative, each Evangelist stands at his own point of
view. Mark has scarcely anything to say about our Lord's appearance
after the Resurrection. His object seems mainly to be to describe
rather the manner in which the report of the Resurrection affected the
disciples, and so he makes prominent the bewildered astonishment of
the women. If the latter part of this chapter be his, he passes by the
appearance of our Lord to Mary Magdalene and to the two travellers to
Emmaus with just a word for each--contrasting singularly with the
lovely narrative of the former in John's Gospel and with the detailed
account of the latter in Luke's. He emphasises the incredulity of the
Twelve after receiving the reports, and in like manner he lays stress
upon the unbelief and hardness of heart which the Lord rebuked.

So, then, this incident, the appearance of the angel, the portion of
his message to the women which we have read, and the way in which the
first testimony to the Resurrection affected its hearers, may suggest
to us some thoughts which, though subsidiary to the main teaching of
the Resurrection, may yet be important in their place.

I. Note the first witness to the Resurrection.

There are singular diversities in the four Gospels in their accounts
of the angelic appearances, the number, occupation, and attitude of
these superhuman persons, and contradictions may be spun, if one is so
disposed, out of these varieties. But it is wiser to take another view
of them, and to see in the varying reports, sometimes of one angel,
sometimes of two, sometimes of one sitting outside the sepulchre,
sometimes one within, sometimes none, either different moments of time
or differences produced by the different spiritual condition of the
beholders. Who can count the glancing wings of the white-winged flock
of sea-birds as they sail and turn in the sunshine? Who can count the
numbers of these 'bright-harnessed angels,' sometimes more, sometimes
less, flickering and fluttering into and out of sight, which shone
upon the vision of the weeping onlookers? We know too little about the
laws of angelic appearances; we know too little about the relation in
that high region between the seeing eye and the objects beheld to
venture to say that there is contradiction where the narratives
present variety. Enough for us to draw the lessons that are suggested
by that quiet figure sitting there in the inner vestibule of the
grave, the stone rolled away and the work done, gazing on the tomb
where the Lord of men and angels had lain.

He was a youth. 'The oldest angels are the youngest,' says a great
mystic. The angels 'excel in strength' because they delight to do His
commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.' The lapse of
ages brings not age to them who 'wait on the Lord' in the higher
ministries of heaven, and run unwearied, and walk unfainting, and when
they are seen by men are radiant with immortal youth. He was 'clothed
in a long white garment,' the sign at once of purity and of repose;
and he was sitting in rapt contemplation and quiet adoration there,
where the body of Jesus had lain.

But what had he to do with the joy of Resurrection? It delivered _him_
from no fears, it brought to him no fresh assurance of a life which
was always his. Wherefore was he there? Because that Cross strikes its
power upwards as well as downwards; because He that had lain there is
the Head of all creation, and the Lord of angels as well as of men;
because that Resurrection following upon that Cross, 'unto the
principalities and powers in heavenly places,' opened a new and
wonderful door into the unsounded and unfathomed abyss of divine love;
because into these things 'angels desire to look,' and, looking, are
smitten with adoring wonder and flushed with the illumination of a new
knowledge of what God is, and of what man is to God. The Resurrection
of the Prince of Life was no mystery to the angel. To him the mystery
was in His death. To us the death is not a mystery, but the
Resurrection is. That gazing figure looks from the other side upon the
grave which we contemplate from this side of the gulf of death; but
the eyes of both orders of Being fix upon the same hallowed spot--they
in adoring wonder that there a God should have lain; we in lowly
thankfulness that thence a man should have risen.

Further, we see in that angel presence not only the indication that
Christ is his King as well as ours, but also the mark of his and all
his fellows' sympathetic participation in whatsoever is of so deep
interest to humanity. There is a certain tone of friendship and
oneness in his words. The trembling women were smitten into an ecstasy
of bewildered fear (as one of the words, 'affrighted' might more
accurately be rendered), and his consolation to them, 'Be not
affrighted, ye seek Jesus,' suggests that, in all the great sweep of
the unseen universe, whatsoever beings may people that to us
apparently waste and solitary space, howsoever many they may be,
'thick as the autumn leaves in Vallambrosa' or as the motes that dance
in the sunshine, they are all friends and allies and elder brethren of
those who seek for Jesus with a loving heart. No creature that owns
His sway can touch or injure or need terrify the soul that follows
after Christ. 'All the servants of our King in heaven and earth are
one,' and He sends forth His brightest and loftiest to be brethren and
ministers to them who shall be 'heirs of salvation.' So we may pass
through the darkest spaces of the universe and the loneliest valleys
of the shadow of death, sure that whosoever may be there will be our
friend if we are the friends of Christ.

II. So much, then, for the first point that I would suggest here.
Note, secondly, the triumphant light cast upon the cradle and the

There is something very remarkable, because for purposes of
identification plainly unnecessary, in the minute particularity of the
designation which the angel lips give to Jesus Christ. 'Jesus, the
Nazarene, who was crucified.' Do you not catch a tone of wonder and a
tone of triumph in this threefold particularising of the humanity, the
lowly residence, and the Ignominious death? All that lowliness,
suffering, and shame are brought into comparison with the rising from
the dead. That is to say, when we grasp the fact of a risen Christ, we
look back upon all the story of His birth, His lowly life, His death
of shame, and see a new meaning in it, and new reasons for triumph and
for wonder. The cradle is illuminated by the grave, the Cross by the
empty sepulchre. As at the beginning there is a supernatural entrance
into life, so at the end there is a supernatural resumption of it. The
birth corresponds with the resurrection, and both witness to the
divinity. The lowly life culminates in the conquest over death; the
Nazarene despised, rejected, dwelling in a place that was a byword,
sharing all the modest lowliness and self-respecting poverty of the
Galilean peasants, has conquered death. The Man that was crucified has
conquered death. And the fact that He has risen explains and
illuminates the fact that He died.

Brethren, let us lay this to heart, that unless we believe in the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the saying 'He was crucified' is the
saddest word that can be spoken about any of the great ones of the
past. If Jesus Christ be lying in some nameless grave, then all the
power of His death is gone, and He and it are nothing to me, or to
you, or to any of our fellow-men, more than a thousand deaths of the
mighty ones of old. But Easter day transfigures the gloom of the day
of the Crucifixion, and the rising sun of its morning gilds and
explains the Cross. Now it stands forth as the great redeeming power
of the world, where my sins and yours and the whole world's have been
expiated and done away. And now, instead of being ignominy, it is
glory, and instead of being defeat it is victory, and instead of
looking upon that death as the lowest point of the Master's
humiliation, we may look upon it as He Himself did, as the highest
point of His glorifying. For the Cross then becomes His great means of
winning men to Himself, and the very throne of His power. On the
historical fact of a Resurrection depend all the worth and meaning of
the death of Christ. 'If He be not risen our preaching is vain, and
your faith is also vain.' 'If Christ be not risen, ye are yet in your
sins.' But if what this day commemorates be true, then upon all His
earthly life is thrown a new light; and we first understand the Cross
when we look upon the empty grave.

III. Again, notice here the majestic announcement of the great fact,
and its confirmation.

'He is risen; He is not here.' The first preacher of the Resurrection
was an angel, a true ev-angel-ist. His message is conveyed in these
brief sentences, unconnected with each other, in token, not of
abruptness and haste, but of solemnity. 'He is risen' is one word in
the original--a sentence of one word, which announces the mightiest
miracle that ever was wrought upon earth, a miracle which opens the
door wide enough for all supernatural events recorded of Jesus Christ
to find an entrance to the understanding and the reason.

'He is risen.' The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is declared by angel
lips to be His own act; not, indeed, as if He were acting separately
from the Father, but still less as if in it He were merely passive.
Think of that; a dead Christ raised Himself. That is the teaching of
the Scripture. I do not dwell here, at this stage of my sermon, on the
many issues that spring from such a conception, but this only I urge,
Jesus Christ was the Lord of life; held life and death, His own and
others', at His beck and will. His death was voluntary; He was not
passive in it, but He died because He chose. His resurrection was His
act; He rose because He willed. 'I have power to lay it down, I have
power to take it again.' No one said to Him, 'I say unto Thee, arise!'
The divine power of the Father's will did not work upon Him as from
without to raise Him from the dead; but He, the embodiment of
divinity, raised Himself, even though it is also true that He was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. These two statements
are not contradictory, but the former of them can only be predicated
of Him; and it sets Him on a pedestal immeasurably above, and
infinitely apart from, all those to whom life is communicated by a
divine act. He Himself is 'the Life,' and it was not possible that
Life should be holden of Death; therefore He burst its bonds, and,
like the ancient Jewish hero, though in far nobler fashion, our Samson
enters into the city which is a prison, and on His strong shoulders
bears away the gates, that none may ever there be prisoners without

Now, then, note the confirmation of this stupendous fact. 'He is
risen; He is not here.' The grave was empty, and the trembling women
were called upon to look and see for themselves that the body was not
there. One remark is all that I wish to make about this matter--viz.
this, all theories, ancient or modern, which deny the Resurrection,
are shattered by this one question, What became of Jesus Christ's
body? We take it as a plain historical fact, which the extremest
scepticism has never ventured to deny, that the grave of Christ was
empty. The trumped-up story of the guards sufficiently shows that.
When the belief of a resurrection began to be spread abroad, what
would have been easier for Pharisees and rulers than to have gone to
the sepulchre and rolled back the stone, and said, 'Look there! there
is your risen Man, lying mouldering, like all the rest of us.' They
did not do it. Why? Because the grave was empty. Where was the body?
They had it not, else they would have been glad to produce it. The
disciples had it not, for if they had, you come back to the
discredited and impossible theory that, having it, and knowing that
they were telling lies, they got up the story of the Resurrection.
Nobody believes that nowadays--nobody can believe it who looks at the
results of the preaching of this, by hypothesis, falsehood. 'Men do
not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.' And whether the
disciples were right or wrong, there can be no question in the mind of
anybody who is not prepared to swallow impossibilities compared to
which miracles are easy, that the first disciples heartily believed
that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead. As I say, one confirmation
of the belief lies in the empty grave, and this question may be put to
anybody that says 'I do not believe in your Resurrection':--'What
became of the sacred body of Jesus Christ?'

Now, note the way in which the announcement of this tremendous fact
was received. With blank bewilderment and terror on the part of these
women, followed by incredulity on the part of the Apostles and of the
other disciples. These things are on the surface of the narrative, and
very important they are. They plainly tell us that the first hearers
did not believe the testimony which they themselves call upon us to
believe. And, that being the state of mind of the early disciples on
the Resurrection day, what becomes of the modern theory, which seeks
to explain the fact of the early belief in the Resurrection by saying,
'Oh, they had worked themselves into such a fever of expectation that
Jesus Christ would rise from the dead that the wish was father to the
thought, and they said that He did because they expected that He
would'? No! they did not expect that He would; it was the very last
thing that they expected. They had not in their minds the soil out of
which such imaginations would grow. They were perfectly unprepared to
believe it, and, as a matter of fact, they did not believe until they
had seen. So I think that that one fact disposes of a great deal of
pestilent and shallow talk in these days that tries to deny the
Resurrection and to save the character of the men that witnessed it.

IV. And now, lastly, note here the summons to grateful contemplation.

'Behold the place whore they laid Him.' To these women the call was
simply one to come and see what would confirm the witness. But we may,
perhaps, permissibly turn it to a wider purpose, and say that it
summons us all to thankful, lowly, believing, glad contemplation of
that empty grave as the basis of all our hopes. Look upon it and upon
the Resurrection which it confirms to us as an historical fact. It
sets the seal of the divine approval on Christ's work, and declares
the divinity of His person and the all-sufficiency of His mighty
sacrifice. Therefore let us, laden with our sins and seeking for
reconciliation with God, and knowing how impossible it is for us to
bring an atonement or a ransom for ourselves, look upon that grave and
learn that Christ has offered the sacrifice which God has accepted,
and with which He is well pleased.

'Behold the place where they laid Him,' and, looking upon it, let us
think of that Resurrection as a prophecy, with a bearing upon us and
upon all the dear ones that have trod the common road into the great
darkness. Christ has died, therefore they live; Christ lives,
therefore we shall never die. His grave was in a garden--a garden
indeed. The yearly miracle of the returning 'life re-orient out of
dust,' typifies the mightier miracle which He works for all that trust
in Him, when out of death He leads them into life. The graveyard has
become 'God's acre'; the garden in which the seed sown in weakness is

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