Resurrection As A Present Power In The Soul
The general truth of resurrection has always found very wide acceptance throughout the world. God has not left himself without witness as, for example, in the change of seasons, the phenomena of seedtime and harvest, night and morning, or sleeping and waking. The heathen nations in many places give evidence of their faith in an after life. The Egyptians and Babylonians constructed elaborate systems of hope. The Greeks believed in resurrection, but only of the soul. The Jews, as Hebrews 6:2 shows and John 11:24, regarded resurrection of the dead as foundational but probably looked for a resurrection body like our present one. Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, and philosophers, who mocked at its mention, are both noticed in Scripture, but were they as numerous and virulent as their counterparts in modern life today?
We could not of course be Christians apart from belief in the truth of resurrection. The Lord Jesus is declared Son of God by resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). If Christ be not risen we are yet in our sins (1 Cor. 15). Again, "if thou shalt confess Jesus as Lord, and believe that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:9). It would seem, however, that as Christians we often have contracted thoughts in regard to resurrection. Like Martha (John 11) we feel the full truth of it is too much for us. That Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection day is grand truth, but it is only part of the truth. There is much more, and this is the present subject before us.
That the Lord Jesus is master over death the Scriptures give adequate testimony. Jairus' daughter, at the point of death, the widow of Nain's son, carried to the place of burying, and Lazarus, four days dead already, may well be only a selection of the cases where our Lord raised individuals from among the dead - "the dead are raised up". That the Lord Jesus Himself arose from the dead we have no fewer than ten separate sets of witness. The power of God ("He is able to subdue all things to Himself"), will touch "every family in the heaven and upon earth" and a scene "which His own hand hath dressed" is one of the ingredients of the hope of all those who "love His appearing".
The purpose of this paper is to show that all this is to have a present moral effect on our souls. Let us turn briefly to the three principal writers of the New Testament, Peter, John and Paul. They each describe the resurrection world in prospect for the Christian, in greater or less detail, as suits the purpose given them by God. But they also dwell with equal emphasis upon the effect which God is looking for in those who by grace embrace their teaching.
Peter tells us much of the resurrection world. The Kingdom, a unique Kingdom, marked by love, centred in the Lord Jesus, is his chief subject. We look forward to salvation at the end of the pathway. But resurrection is to have a present moral effect upon the soul. We are begotten again to a lively hope by resurrection of the dead (1 Pet. 1:3). If he speaks of the inheritance undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you (1:4) already we rejoice in it (v. 6). If the apostles were eye witnesses of His majesty, who shall fill that scene, already we rejoice in Him - "whom having not seen we love, in whom, though now we see him not, we rejoice, with joy unspeakable and full of glory." And these grand heavenly perspectives and objectives have another effect upon our souls; we are to arm ourselves with the mind to suffer (1 Pet. 4:1). We are saved by glory, in prospect, and virtue, the soldierly quality that carries us through (2 Pet. 1:2).
Let us not forget the modern instances of this. Some tell us there have been more martyrs in recent decades than at any moment in this world's history. In Congo recently not a few instances have come to our notice of Christians dying well. There are also bright instances of those who live well. John and Mary Gadsden were wealthy Americans. During the 20's a missionary came to their little church in Virginia. They felt the call to China, sold all and went. During their training volunteers were asked for a lonely station near Tibet. They went. God was in it. Their testimony was blessed. Souls were saved. Then one day the youngest child died of a fever. Ten days later the second child also died. Would they stay? Amid their tears they stayed. Then Mary took ill. It was too much. Down river, there was a mission station, a doctor and hope. John built a raft and set out. The first day passed, and the second, but on the third morning Mary said, "We won't go down river today, John. I am going over the river" - and then died. But before she died she called her husband near and whispered something in his ear. What was he to do? Downstream home, friends, money, ease? Upstream, his work, alone? Surely the price was too much? But he went upstream. His wife had said, "Go back". This is the obedience of the Christ. We must arm ourselves with the mind to suffer. Did not He? Should not we?
But John also speaks of the resurrection world. In the Revelation he tells us five times that the earthly reign of the Lord Jesus will be for 1,000 years. That eternal life, ever in the Son, made known in the Incarnation, will then be enjoyed in full measure. The Father's house speaks of the undisplayed joys of that eternal life. But John is equally emphatic and plain that future joys are to be known and enjoyed here and now. The "many mansions" of John 14:2 find their present counterpart, if the conditions are fulfilled, in the individual abodes of John 14:23. (The word for "mansions" and "abodes" is the same in both places.) Again, John's epistle is largely devoted to eternal life known and enjoyed by the Christian community now. Its principal features are righteousness and love. In a word we are to enter now into the enjoyment of heaven in our souls. No element of blessedness to be known in that day is denied to us here and now. The best wine is not kept to the last, but kept for now (John 2). And have we not met individuals who have proclaimed in their lives that these things are true? "Contented godliness" described Mr. John G. Bellett. "Satisfied with favour, full of the blessing of the Lord" were favourite words of Mr. Robert Chapman. May we also have this testimony a little more before we are translated, that we also have pleased God.
Now let us look for a moment on the Apostle Paul. He too speaks extensively of the resurrection world in its future aspect "the world to come of which we speak". In Ephesians 1 he speaks of the heading up of all things in Christ. In Philippians 2, "every knee shall bow". 1 Corinthians 15 is almost exclusively devoted to resurrection, here however, the resurrection of the body. But what of resurrection as a present moral power in the soul? This he illustrates in his own history as well as in his doctrine. Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," etc. How is this done Paul? The answer is simple. Union with Christ. Most Christians readily acknowledge a blessing by Christ. Paul teaches us also, plainly, blessing with Christ. Thus we read, buried with Christ, dead with Christ, quickened with Christ, raised with Christ, seated with Christ, our life hid with Christ and when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory.
Paul doubtless was a chosen vessel, but he was also a pattern saint (1 Timothy 1:16). It was shown him how great things he must suffer for His name's sake. Look at the catalogue in 2 Corinthians 11. Now what was it that kept him going? "Tell me the secret wherein thy great strength lieth." "That I may know Him" he says, "and the power of His resurrection, being made conformable to His death". The same power can keep us going also. This is precisely what we find in two passages in Ephesians. In 1:19 we get the power of resurrection in relation to Christ - "power", "working" and "mighty power". In 6:10 we have exactly the same three Greek words in the exhortation "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might". The Apostle Paul knew it, and exhibited it. We are to walk in the same steps now.
Then again, in an especial way, resurrection power is of all importance to us today. Our lot is cast in the last days. Well says the Scripture "perilous times" (1 Timothy 3:1). The profession is marked by "a form of godliness, denying the power thereof". Philosophers are with us in great numbers. They mock. Sadducees surround us on every hand. They do not believe. What saith the Scripture? "Remember Jesus Christ of the seed of David raised from the dead" (2 Timothy 2:8, J.N.D.). The Apostle Paul again gives personally as well as in his doctrine the true Christian position. Although suffering as though an evil doer (the same word as for the malefactors crucified with Jesus) even unto bonds, nevertheless he was not ashamed. Adversaries were never more virulent. He knew them, and named them. Was he discouraged? In no wise. Never was he more confident. The Word of God is not bound. The elect obtain salvation with eternal glory. If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. But are you not about to die, Paul? "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of life, and not to me only but unto all them which love His appearing." The man is irrepressible. 'Cut off my head,' he says, 'and you will only liberate me to the Person and into the sphere that I know and love right well'. And, let it be said, Paul writes here not as an apostle but as a man of like passions with ourselves. The experience he describes is normal Christian experience. The excellency of this power is of God. It wrought with Paul. It can work with us.
One final and practical question confronts us. If all this power is available to us, how is it that we oft times fail in drawing upon it? There are probably two reasons for this. Firstly, we are slow to learn that it is resurrection power that is available to us. As such we have to accept death first. Man is incorrigibly bad, after 4,000 years of testing. God has condemned sin in the flesh. Our old man has been crucified with Him. This runs exactly counter to our natural mode of thought. In these days of humanism it is confidently proclaimed that man is the master and centre of things. Even beloved Christian people think we must keep the best of the flock, as Saul did, to sacrifice to the Lord. But God's word is irrevocable and final - "the flesh profiteth nothing". Until we embrace this decision, resurrection power will attract us not one whit. Then secondly, accepting gratefully God's marvellous provision of power, perhaps we need help as to God's pattern of power and blessing in closing days. It is a day of little strength, and little things - "be not thou ashamed of the testimony of the Lord nor of me His prisoner"
D. W. Paterson
"O teach us so, the power to know
Of risen life with Thee;
Not we may live whilst here below
But Christ our life may be."