The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
Christ Not in the Sepulchre
I. The two disciples went away believing, because they found that Christ was not in the sepulchre. But Mary Magdalene came and told them that she had seen Him risen, and had heard His voice with her ears. What she told Peter and John, Peter and John are now telling to us. They tell us that they have heard Him, that they have seen Him with their eyes, have looked upon Him, yea, that their hands have handled Him. We may trust their testimony, as they trusted hers, being quite ready indeed to believe that He was alive, because they had found that He was not amongst the dead. And so we, finding that He is not amongst the dead, seeing and knowing the fruits of His gospel, the living and ever increasing fruits of it, may well believe that its Author is risen, and that the pains of death were loosed from off Him, because it was not possible that He should be holden by them. In this way we, like the two disciples, may be all said to be witnesses of Christ's resurrection.
II. But this is now past, as with the two disciples, and we are going again to our own homes. There, neither the empty sepulchre nor the risen Saviour are present before us, but common scenes and familiar occupations, which in themselves have nothing in them of Christ. May we not hope that Christ and Christ's Spirit will visit us the while in these our daily callings, as He came to His disciples Peter and John when following their business as fishers on the Lake of Gennesareth? How can we get Him to visit us? There is one answer—by prayer and by watchfulness. All of us have in truth one great call yet before us; and with respect to that we are all preparing still. And for that great call, common to all of us, we need all the same common readiness; and that readiness will be effected in us only by the same means, if now, before it come, Christ and Christ's Spirit shall, in our homes and daily callings, be persuaded to visit us.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 190.
Reference: John 20:10, John 20:11.—J. Key, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 211.
John 20:10-18Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre
We may see the following things in this passage:—
I. Mary's sorrow. (1) She sought for a lost Christ, and looked for Him where He was not to be found. (2) She failed to recognise Him, though so near to her. (3) She mistook the Divine work for man's. "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him."
II. The strength of Mary's love.
III. The imperfection of Mary's faith.
IV. Our Lord's message sent by Mary. (1) It was a message of forgiveness. (2) A message of continued, unbroken affection. "Go and tell My brethren."
C. Short, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 235.
References: John 20:11.—H. Scott Holland Church of England Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 232. John 20:11-14.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 218.
John 20:11-18First Appearance of the Risen Lord
I. It was a real body that appeared to Mary. "Touch Me not," said Jesus. Then it was possible to touch Him. If not, prohibition was unnecessary. Wisdom never tells us to do what cannot be done. The face that looked at her was not a grey, ghastly gleam; the voice she heard was not a dead voice. The form she saw was not a form that trembled in the twilight far within the tomb, but one that stood boldly forth in the warm, clear, cheerful day outside.
II. We have in the words "Touch Me not," a gentle reproof, pointing to the lack of spirituality in Mary's faith. Even her worshipping thoughts of Jesus seemed to rise no higher than an embodied presence; to her mind, the supreme object of faith could be touched with fingers; she could only think of a Rabboni Whose feet she could clasp, and to Whose garments she could cling. Just now, at least, her soul was cleaving to the dust, and was shut up in the world of sights, sounds and touches. The words of Jesus were to discipline and raise her faith, and to break to her the truth that He is no longer to be revealed under the forms of time, and in the world of sensation, but to the soul.
III. We are taught that although Mary had this check when beginning to touch the risen Christ, all the disciples may touch Him, now that He is in heaven. This is the natural conclusion from the language, "For I am not yet ascended to My Father." The word yet conveys the inference that when He was ascended, she might touch Him as much as she pleased.
IV. These words may have included an injunction to Mary not to delay her errand to the disciples. "Do not touch Me," might have meant "Do not linger." It is almost as if He had said: "Mary, there is no time now for tender intimacies, and protracted intercourse; I have this more important employment for you; go to them at once, for they must make haste if they would see Me; and you must make haste if you would give them fair notice." So now, Christ is always calling us away from the passive to the active—from personal enjoyment to practical service.
C. Stanford, From Calvary to Olivet, p. 125.
References: John 20:11-18.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 283; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 263.
John 20:13There is Reason in the Tears of Mary, for
I. They show her strong and tender love—the most reasonable of all possible forms of love—the love which she had for the perfect moral Being, our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. They expressed her bitter disappointment. She had come to find Him, and He was gone. "They have taken away my Lord."
III. They imply her longing for more knowledge about Him than she has, as yet.
IV. They are the earnest of her perseverance.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 937.
References: John 20:13.—Parker, Ark of God, p. 162.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 198; vol. x., p. 362.—Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 183. John 20:14-16.—J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 193.
John 20:15Christ the Gardener
The mistake which Mary made in supposing Jesus to be the gardener, will suggest some profitable thoughts for Eastertide. "The time being spring," as good Bishop Andrews remarks in his sweet, quaint way, "and the place a garden, Christ's appearing as a gardener has some propriety about it." In one sense, as St. Gregory said, Christ may well be called a gardener, and indeed is one. Christ is ever what He seems to be.
I. Man began his earthly career in a garden, and Jesus, the Divine Word who made all things, was the Creator of this temporal paradise. In that sense, therefore, He may be accounted a gardener.
II. Again, at His glorious resurrection from the dead, He did but exemplify the calling of a gardener. Nor is this to end His wonder-working power. By virtue of His own resurrection, He will raise up our bodies also. "He will change all our graves into garden plots."
III. Jesus, as the Gardener, waters and cultivates the plants which His own right hand has planted—His heavenly graces, bestowed in answer to believing prayer; and in the devout reception of the holy sacrament, refreshes and revives the soul.
J. N. Norton, Old Paths, p. 259.
References: John 20:15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1699; Ibid., My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 163; J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 121; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 233; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 252; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 388; J. M. Neale, Sermons, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 68. John 20:15, John 20:16.—C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 75.
John 20:15-23Next to the absence of all notice of our Lord's mother, few things are more remarkable in the narrative of the period after the resurrection, than the silence respecting John.
I. John was born a lover of repose, of retirement. Left to himself he would never have been an adventurous or ambitious man. But let us not confound John's yielding gentleness, with that spirit of easy compliance which shuns all contest, because it does not feel that there is anything worth contending for. Beneath John's calm and soft exterior there lay a hidden strength. In the mean, vulgar strife of petty, earthly passions, John might have yielded where Peter would have stood firm. But in more exciting scenes, under more formidable tests, John would have stood firm where Peter might have yielded. And there was latent heat as well as latent strength in John. As lightning lurks amid the warm, soft drops of the summer shower, so the force of a love-kindled zeal lurked in his gentle spirit.
II. Nor let us confound John's simplicity with shallowness. If it be the pure in heart who see God, John's was the eye to see farther into the highest of all regions than that of any of his fellows. If it be he that loveth who knoweth God, John's knowledge of God must have stood unrivalled. There were besides under that calm surface which the spirit of the beloved disciple displayed to the common eye of observation profound and glorious depths. The writer of the Gospel and the Epistle is the writer also of the Apocalypse; and if the Holy Spirit chose the human vehicle best fitted for receiving and transmitting the Divine communications, then to St. John we must assign not the pure, deep love alone of a gentle heart, but the vision and the faculty divine—the high imaginative power. It was the all-conquering grace of God that brought Peter and John into a union so near, and to both so beneficial—John's gentleness leaning upon Peter's strength; Peter's fervid zeal chastened by John's pure, calm love. In the glorious company of the Apostles they shone together as a double star, in whose complemental light, love and zeal, labour and rest, action and contemplation, the working servant and the waiting virgin, are brought into beauteous harmony.
W. Hanna, The Forty Days, p. 126.
References: John 20:16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 305; vol. vii., pp. 56, 235; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 389; Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 350; R. H. Newton, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 378.
John 20:17Ascension the Condition of the Spiritual Contact
I. The brief saying of the text is pregnant with the deepest doctrine. It teaches us how poor a thing is bodily presence, even if it were the presence of the Saviour. It teaches us how they err from wisdom as well as from reason, who would reproduce upon earth in holy sacraments, the corporeal presence of the risen. How little can they have entered into the first principle of the Gospel, "God is Spirit," or into the first axiom of Christianity, which is,—The lowest spiritual ranks in the nature of things above the highest carnal. The true contact with Christ presupposes His ascension; it is only by ascending far above all heavens that He can really fill all things. "Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended."
II. The risen Saviour tells this sorrowful yet suddenly comforted disciple that she must not cling to Him. In itself, that sounds cheerless and unsympathetic. Then we begin to say it is quite true, as the Romanist seems to tell us, that Jesus Christ Himself, though we call Him our Saviour, is too holy, too Divine, to be approached without some sort of mediation. Let us find some intermediate—saint, angel, or virgin—whom we may approach and cling to, since He Himself has spoken the Noli me tangere. And yet the voice was very sweet and very tender which forbad the touching. Surely it promised the very access which it prohibited—promised in the name of the Ascended that which it postponed in the person of the Risen. Yes, that which we could not do, with any amount of permission—namely, the touching of the visible Saviour—that which is no loss therefore to us, whatever it may have seemed to be to her—is here opened to us, living after the ascension, as the very privilege and possession of our discipleship. "Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended;" but now He is ascended, and He may be touched, clung to, and dwelt with.
C. J. Vaughan, Temple Sermons, p. 416.
The Resurrection Change.
These words imply—
I. A change in our Blessed Lord Himself. While the teaching of the New Testament establishes a real organic connection between that which died and that which rises again, it intimates also a mighty change. When Mary saw the Lord she felt that death had been conquered; she knew not the change which death had made. And, therefore, His forbiddal of her loving touch. She puts out her hand to lay hold of Him, as of old; and lo! He draws Himself back in the mystery of His resurrection life, as though to break to her the solemn truth, that in Him the mortal had put on immortality, and might not bear contact with the dying. "Touch Me not." It is the measure of the change which shall pass upon all, in dying and rising from the dead.
II. Again, the words of Christ indicate not only a change in Himself, but in His relations with His followers. It is worthy of notice here that, though our Blessed Lord permitted not the touch of Mary Magdalen, yet a few days later he invited the touch of St. Thomas. The cause of this various action is not far to seek. Mary did not doubt the reality of the Being who stood beside her. She required to be drawn on from a too material love to a love more spiritual in its nature. St. Thomas required to be convinced that what he saw was no illusion of the senses. The fault of the one ended where the fault of the other began. And yet, while Jesus Christ thus withdraws from the touch of Mary, He intimates the approach of a time of renewed close communion with Him. If He forbids her touch because He was not yet ascended, He thereby manifestly implies that, when He had ascended, then she should touch Him without rebuke. What is this? It is the opening out the vital doctrine of the real spiritual contact which exists between the servants of Christ, and Christ upon His throne. The Redeemer here seems to intimate that, when once He had ascended to the Father, there should recommence a close intercommunion between Himself and His disciples. He draws the woman from a lower to a higher love—from a carnal to a spiritual touch; He bids her not stretch forth her hand, but lift up her heart; not seek to detain Him on earth, but to rise herself towards heaven.
Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the New Testament, p. 54.
The Magdalen's Touch
Consider the warrant which the text gives us that Christ is ascended for real communion; what the measure of that communion is.
We must remember that to Christ's own feeling, the circumstance of the invisibility of His presence would make no difference. Our Lord feels just as much present with His people now, as when His bodily eyes saw them and His natural voice spoke to them. Therefore to Him it is just the same now, as if anybody really touched Him. To us, it is an exercise of faith to realise that. But to Him there is no alteration at all, since He was upon the earth. Now the act of Mary, of touching Jesus, whatever that touch was, must have been expressive, first, of the faith she had, that her own Lord and Saviour was again at her side; for, as she saw Him, she said simply, that one most beautiful of words, "Master." Thomas, too, when he touched, felt much the same. And our Saviour's repulse to Mary speaks only and exactly the same language as does the attitude of Thomas. Both exalt the spiritual power above the natural touch. The soul's embrace of the unseen in both is made greater than all bodily evidence. "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." It was the action, too, of adoring love. Our Saviour's words strikingly united those two feelings, as meeting in that higher touch, to which He directly led her now. "Touch Me," he virtually said, "Touch Me in your heart, when I am ascended." As the things of this outer world come and go, as they will, and all change and all die, we find that the things we touch, and cannot see, are far more real and far better than all that ever the natural senses know.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 130.
I. There are three arguments for the ascension of Christ—the external argument, the internal, and the personal. (1) The apostles declare that they saw the Lord ascend into heaven. Could they have united together and propagated a story which they did not credit? (2) The standing proof of the ascension of Christ to heaven is to be found in the mission and work of the Holy Spirit. (3) The personal argument for the ascension of Christ arises from the experience of His believing disciples.
II. The consequences of Christ's ascension are—(1) The completion of His work of atonement; (2) The stability of His Church, together with the supply of all that is needful to the perfecting of it through the work of the Holy Spirit; (3) The ascension furnishes to the faith and hope of individual believers a sure resting-place.
III. Encouragements which the ascension of Christ affords to believers. (1) It fortifies them against the assaults of their spiritual enemies. (2) It warrants them to count with the fullest confidence upon experiencing heavenly sympathy.
A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 518.
References: John 20:17.—R. Rothe, Preacher's Lantern, vol. i., p. 615; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 130.; vol. ii., p. 36; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. x., p. 79; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 306; vol. iii., p. 227; vol. v., p. 172; S. Cox, Expositions, 2nd series, p. 45; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 166; M. Dix, Sermons, Doctrinal and Practical, p. 133; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 85; vol. xviii., p. 222. John 20:18-27.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 367.
John 20:19The words "Peace be unto you" were the ordinary Jewish form of greeting, at least in later ages. The form marked the grave, religious character of the Hebrew race. Just as the Greek, in his natural gaiety of heart, bid his neighbour "Hail" or "Joy"—just as the Roman, with his traditional notions of order and law, wished him safety—so the Jew, with a deep insight into the scope of the word, would just wish him "Peace." The form itself was of high antiquity. When the steward of Joseph's house would reassure the trembling brethren of the patriarch, who had found their money in their sacks, and had returned to Egypt, he said, in language which he had probably, as an Egyptian slave, heard from his master, and repeated by his orders, "Peace be unto you." When the religious Jew would invoke God's blessing on the holy city, it took this form. He would pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "Peace be within thy walls, prosperity within thy palaces." And thus, as a great Hebrew scholar has observed, we never find this greeting of peace used in the Old Testament as a mere conventional expression which had lost its meaning. "Peace be unto you." The ordinary Jewish greeting, no doubt, as it fell on the ears of the apostles, assured them that Jesus had re-entered, at any rate for a while, and under conditions, upon the social life of man; but the form, the old familiar form, which gave this assurance, was charged now with a spiritual meaning and power which should last through all time. What, then, is the peace of Christ's resurrection blessing?
I. The exact word which our Lord used undoubtedly means, in the first place, thriving, prospering, when a thing is as it should be according to its capacity or its origin. In this way the word implies the absence of disturbing causes, of injury, of sickness, of unhappiness, of want. And thus the idea of rest results from the original meaning of the word. A man has peace, it has been well said, when things are with him as they should be; and peace then is the absence of causes which would disturb the well-being of a society or of a man. It is that well-being conceived of as undisturbed. The peace which Christ breathed on the apostles was that which is needed by a spiritual society. And this peace might mean, first of all, freedom from interference on the part of those who did not belong to it. No doubt as they listened to the sounds of the Jewish mob out in the street, resting as they were in their upper chamber on that Easter evening, the apostles thought of this sense of the blessing. It was for them an insurance against rough handling, against persecution. Certainly it was no part of our Lord's design that Christians should be at constant war with Pagan or Jewish society. On the contrary, the worshippers of Christ were to do what they could to live in social harmony with those who did not know or love their Master. And yet, if the apostles had thought that this was the meaning of the blessing, they would soon be undeceived. Pentecost was quickly followed by imprisonments, by martyrdoms. For three centuries the Church was almost continuously persecuted. The peace which Christ promised is independent of outward troubles. It certainly does not consist in their absence. Does the blessing, then, refer to concord among Christians? Certainly it was meant—we cannot doubt it—that peace should reign within the fold of Christ. He who is the author of peace and lover of concord so willed it; but neither here nor elsewhere did He impose His will mechanically upon baptised men. Such is our human imperfection that the very earnestness of faith has constantly been itself fatal to peace. Controversy, no doubt, is a bad thing; but there are worse things in the world than controversy. The existence of controversy does not forfeit the great gift, which our Lord made to His apostles on the evening of Easter day; for that gift was a gift—we cannot doubt it—chiefly and first, if not exclusively, to the individual soul.
II. Now, upon what conditions does the existence of this peace in the soul depend. (1) A first condition of its existence is the soul's possession of some definite religious principles. I say "some principles," because many men, who only know portions of the religious truth which is to be known and had in this life, yet make the most of the little they know, and may thus enjoy a large measure of inward peace. What is wanted by us men is something to cling to, something to fall back upon, something that will support and guide us amid the perplexities of thought—amid the impetuosities of passion. Without religious principles the human soul is like a ship at sea without chart, without compass. (2) The peace of the soul must be based on harmony between the conscience and our knowledge of truth. Now, this harmony is disturbed, to a certain extent, by the plain facts of every human life—to an immense extent by the facts of most human lives. Conscience, by its very activity—conscience, when it is honest and energetic—destroys peace, because it discovers a want of harmony between life and our highest knowledge. And here, too, our risen Lord is the giver of peace. What we cannot achieve, left to ourselves, we do achieve in and through Him. We hold out to Him the hand of faith; He reaches forward to us His inexhaustible merits, His word of life, the sacraments of His Gospel; we become one with Him. And thus the work of righteousness is peace, and its effect on us is quietness and assurance for ever. Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. (3) And the peace of the soul depends, lastly, on its embracing an adequate and legitimate object of affection. We are so constituted that our hearts must find repose in that which they can really love. Most people pass their lives in trying to solve this problem by attaching themselves to some created object. The love of power, the love of wealth, the love of position, the love of reputation—these are merely, at the best, temporary experiments. The attempt to find peace in the play of the domestic affections is much more respectable—much more likely to succeed for a term of years—for the heart is engaged in this way seriously and deeply. But neither husband, nor wife, nor son, nor daughter, can—we know it—be counted on as a perpetual possession. Death parts us all, sooner or later, for a time; and if the whole heart has been given to the lost friend or relative, peace is gone. When our risen Lord said in the upper chamber "Peace be unto you," He made His great and precious blessing an actual gift. He presented Himself risen from the tomb, inaccessible to the assaults of death, in His human as in His Divine nature, as an object of exhaustless affection to the human heart. The secret of inward peace is simplicity in the affections and in the purpose—the repose of the soul in presence of a love and of a beauty before which all else must pale.
H. P. Liddon, No. 880, Penny Pulpit.
References: John 20:19.—S. Baring Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 152; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 41; W. H. Jellie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 309; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 194; vol. ii., p. 247; vol. iv., p. 264; vol. xiv., p. 230; C. Stanford, From Calvary to Olivet, p. 164; B. F. Westcott, The Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 79; A. P. Stanley, Church Sermons, vol. i., p. 385; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 91; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 240; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1254; W. C. E. Newbolt, Counsels of Faith and Practice, p. 80.
John 20:19-20I. Such as was the state of the disciples on that sad evening, such must often be our state, at least in many respects. We too have all of us often forsaken our Lord and Master. We too have often lost Him. We may have forsaken Him through fear of the world. We may have forsaken Him to run after vanities. We may have forsaken Him to follow the devices of our own hearts. At such seasons, when we are weighed down with the consciousness of having forsaken our Lord, the Tempter will come to us, and having already gained a hold on our hearts, will try to make sure of his prey. He comes and tells us that we have lost our Lord; that He is dead,—that to us, at least, He is dead; that to us, He is as though He had never been; that we have nothing to hope from Him; that He cannot love us; that we shall never see Him again, until we see Him as our Judge.
II. At such dark dreary seasons, when we have lost our Saviour; when the world has taken Him from us; when we have been turning away from Him and forsaking Him, and cannot find Him any more—what does it behove us to do? What did the disciples do? They assembled together, with their doors shut for fear of the Jews. Now this is just what we ought to do. We should assemble together. For this is our Lord's blessed and most gracious promise, that where two or three are gathered together in His name, there He will be in the midst of them. Sin, and the whole family of sin—all worldly thoughts, all worldly cares, all worldly and carnal lusts—these are the Jews who crucified Christ; these are the Jews that still crucify Him, that still draw away His disciples from Him, and tempt and lure them to forsake Him, and would sever them from Him for ever. These, then, are the Jews against whom you are to shut your doors.
III. "Peace be unto you." Into whatsoever house Christ enters, these are the first words He speaks to that house. To whatsoever heart Christ manifests Himself, this is the blessed salutation with which He tries to win that heart to receive Him and abide with Him. It is when you are mourning over the loss of love, that you learn to feel how precious every token of it was. It is when you have been taught to know your want of peace, that you will feel what a blessed thing it is to have your Saviour come to you and say, "Peace be unto you."
J. C. Hare, Sermons in Herstmonceux Church, p. 193.
Reference: John 20:19, John 20:20.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 213.
John 20:19-23(with Mark 16:13-14; Luke 24:33-49)
I. We should misinterpret the incidents of this evening meeting, we should mistake the simple, immediate and precise object which, in using them, our Lord had in view, to explain these words as if they were intended to clothe the eleven apostles, and after them their successors or representatives,—to clothe any class of officials in the Church exclusively with a power of remitting and retaining sins. There were others present as well as they. Those other members of the infant Church had the benediction pronounced on them as well as on the eleven; the instructions were given to them, as well as to the eleven; the breath was breathed on them, as well as on the eleven. Had Jesus meant, when He spoke of this remitting and retaining sins, to restrict to the eleven the power and privileges conferred, should He not by some word or token have made it manifest that such was His desire?
II. We are not in the least disposed to doubt that, while Christ speaks of the remitting and the retaining of sins as pertaining to the Church at large, His words cover the acts of the Church in her organised capacity—the inflicting and removing of ecclesiastical censures through the office-bearers, in the exercise of discipline. Here, however, we have two remarks to make: (1) That it is only so far as these acts are done by spiritual men, seeking and following the guidance of the Spirit; only so far as they are in accordance with Christ's own expressed will—that they are of any avail, or can plead any heavenly ratification; and (2) that all the force they carry is nothing more nor less, than an authoritative and official declaration of what that will of the Lord is. The Church's function is strictly limited to the announcing of a pardon, which it is for the grace of the Heavenly Forgiver alone to bestow. And if, in executing that simple but most honourable office of proclaiming unto all men that there is remission of sins through the name of Jesus, she teaches that it is alone through her channels—through channels that priestly or ordained consecrated hands can alone open—the pardon cometh, she trenches upon the rights and prerogatives of Him whom she represents, and turns that eye upon herself that should be turned alone on Him.
W. Hanna, The Forty Days, p. 65.
References: John 20:19-23.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 218; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 194; vol. ii., p. 247; vol. iv., p. 264; B. F. Westcott, Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 79. John 20:19-24.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 90.
John 20:20The Nature of Christian Worship
I. The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ amongst His people. We attach to the Deity the idea of omnipresence. The conception is a tremendous one, but it is unquestionably a correct one. There have been individuals—men of gigantic mental powers and of untiring activity—who have contrived, by the multiplication and adjustment of skilfully ordered agencies, to make their influence felt through the whole of a mighty empire, and, as it were, to be present in every part of it at the same moment of time. But presence by influence is one thing, and presence by person another. And what we believe of the Godhead is this, that in every point of what we call space, God is to be found simultaneously, in all the force of His being and in all the plenitude of His power. There is a difference, however, between this Divine omnipresence of Christ and the kind of presence referred to in the narrative before us. About this latter there is something special. The Saviour, present in the assemblies of His worshipping people, is ready to make His presence felt by them; ready to open communications with them; ready to manifest Himself to them as He is not manifested to the world; ready so to lay His gentle but powerful touch upon their spirits, as that they shall feel that they have been admitted into the very audience chamber of their Father and their God.
II. Christ stands in the midst of His people for the purpose of blessing them and giving them peace. He does not come amongst us to find fault and to call up for judgment. He comes to bless. His language to us is the same as that which He addressed to His disciples of old—"Peace be unto you."
III. The disciples rejoiced at the presence of the Lord. In the act of worship the true disciple cares for fulfilment of duty, certainly; for religious emotion, certainly; but chiefly for personal communication with the personal God. It is God—God Himself, not merely something belonging to God—that he desires to know, to approach, to realise, to grasp, to possess. "My soul," says David, "is athirst for God, for the living God." When the Christian disciple realises Christ in his worship, when Christ has become an actual living personal Presence to him, meeting him, speaking to him, comforting him—then he has attained the object of his spiritual desire. And then, like the disciples of old, he is glad when he sees the Lord.
G. Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, No. 1063.
The Resurrection of Christ
There is in all nations an irrepressible instinct struggling after immortality. But these blind guesses go for nothing. Reason knows nothing to confirm them. Reason leaves us in perplexity. If Christ be not risen, all other risings are fables. The only light has gone out: nothing has happened this year, nothing last year, nothing this century; nothing has happened in all the centuries of the past to throw light on the Beyond, if Christ be not risen. But, once accept the fact that Christ has risen from the dead, and see what questions of supreme importance it answers.
I. The first question of the present day, the first question of all ages, is this: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? It is a question of profoundest importance. Is He only the Son of man, or is He also the Son of God? In presence of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, it seems easier to get rid of His humanity than of His Godhood. Well, if the Redeemer be Divine; if He is really Emmanuel—God with us; if I can look to Him and say, "My Lord and my God"—I cannot help being glad. Who can help being glad, with such a Saviour?
II. Another question which the Resurrection answers is this: Is Christ's sacrifice accepted and sufficient—the sacrifice that He offered once for all to God? The Resurrection is the answer. It is God's "Yea" to that voice from the cross, "It is finished." The prison doors are opened, and the Surety comes forth—not to life merely, but to glory and dominion.
III. What is Jesus Christ to us today? The resurrection declares the unbrokenness of His love and brotherhood. He has not cast aside the robe of our humanity. He wears it in glory; He wears it for ever. He is not ashamed to call us brethren.
IV. What is God's purpose concerning His redeemed? The special revelation of the New Testament is not that of the immortality of the soul, but of a future life resembling the life of Jesus Christ. He has risen from the dead—risen, not for Himself alone, but as the first-fruits of them that slept; and He says, "Because I live, ye shall live also."
J. Culross, Christian World Pulpit, March 2, 1887.
References: John 20:20.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 175; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 312. John 20:20-23.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 502. John 20:21.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 185; see also Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. x., p. 82 J. E. B. Pusey, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 139.
John 20:21-23The Christian Mission
I. These words were addressed in the first instance to the apostles then present. But they are likewise addressed, and with no less force, to every one who finds joy in the presence of his Saviour. All such persons does Christ send to work His work upon earth. As He came to work the work of His heavenly Father, so all who are made partakers in His salvation are sent by Him to work the same work, each according to his calling and to the gift that he may have received. To all Christ gives the same charge; He sends all to work the work of God. This is His commandment. He sends them to work the work of God, as children of God, with the peaceful feeling of being reconciled to God and received into His family; to find their chief pleasure in working that work, with no constraint upon them, except the blessed constraint of love.
II. Thus we see on what a glorious mission every Christian is sent; we see what a blessing he bears with him, so long as he endeavours to fulfil that mission. Still, so weak and frail and mean-spirited is man that, notwithstanding the glory of the work, notwithstanding the blessing it brings with it, he shrinks from it; he cannot summon heart for so mighty an enterprise; he cannot rise out of the mire of his carnal nature, but sinks into it again. There are a host of excuses that people are wont to bring forward for shrinking from the work Christ sends them to do. To all, however, our Lord gives a complete answer; one and all He cuts off in the text. For when He had given His charge to the disciples, when He had sent them on the same mission on which He had been sent by His Father, "He breathed on them and said to them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." He gave them the Holy Ghost to strengthen them, to enlighten them, to breathe life into their words and power into their arguments. And the same Holy Spirit is granted richly to all who have received Christ into their hearts as their Saviour, and have given themselves up to God to work their Master's work. They receive the Holy Ghost, not only to dwell in them and sanctify them, but also to strengthen and enlighten them for the work on which Christ sends them, and to help and prosper them in that work.
J. C. Hare, Sermons in Herstmonceux Church, p. 208.
References: John 20:21-23.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 85. John 20:22.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 45. John 20:22, John 20:23.—Ibid., vol. x., p. 164. John 20:24.—H. Melvill, Voices of the Year, vol. ii., p. 347; Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 267.
John 20:24-25The Incredulity of St. Thomas
I. It is easy and not uncommon to upbraid the incredulity of Thomas, and to entertain none but the most indefinite ideas as to the fault of which he was guilty. We ought to remember that the assertion of Christ being risen was an extraordinary and overwhelming assertion, to be received as true only when demonstrated by the most rigid proof. There could not be a greater mistake than supposing that faith is acceptable in proportion as it is unsupported by reason, or that men are required to believe what they are unable to prove. The great question is, whether proof enough had been already vouchsafed, or rather whether Thomas was warranted in refusing to believe on any testimony but that of his own senses. We may say, at once, that sufficient evidence had been afforded to Thomas in the predictions of Christ and in the testimony of his brethren. He had no right to regard the resurrection as well-nigh incredible. He had seen others raised by Christ, and he had heard from Christ that He would yet raise Himself; and if there seemed such an antecedent improbability as to be overcome by nothing but peculiar evidence, the testimony of the apostles ought to have been conclusive. The grand evil of the faithlessness of Thomas was that in refusing to be satisfied by any evidence but that of his senses, Thomas did his utmost to undermine the foundation on which Christianity would necessarily rest, and to establish a principle which would indicate universal infidelity; for it is manifestly impossible, where the proofs of a revelation are concerned, that evidence should be afforded to every man's senses, that the demonstration of miracle should be perpetually and individually repeated, so that none would have to rest on the testimony of others.
II. It is one thing to prove that Thomas laid undue stress upon evidence which addresses itself to the senses; and it is another thing to prove to you that we ourselves lose nothing by not having that sort of evidence. If it were possible that I could ascertain through my senses the truths of Christianity, certifying myself by the eye and the ear and the touch, that the Son of God died for me on the cross, and rose and ascended as my Intercessor, undoubtedly I might believe Christ to be my Saviour, but there would be nothing of that surrendering myself to the testimony of God, which is exacted from me in the absence of sensible proof, and which in itself is the finest discipline for another state of being. The very basis of the faith of the man who has not seen, gives to that faith a moral excellence of the highest description. "Blessed are they which have not seen, and yet have believed."
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2011.
Reference: John 20:24, John 20:25.—T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 36.
John 20:24-29The Incredulity of Thomas.
The case of Thomas is—
I. A most instructive instance of the exercise and expression of a true, loving, affectionate, appropriating faith. It is outgoing, self-forgetting, Christ-engrossed. No raising by Thomas of any question as to whether one who had been incredulous so long would be unwelcome when at last he believed. No occupation of mind or heart with any personal considerations whatever. Christ is there before him; thought to be lost more than recovered; His eye beaming with love, His encouraging invitation given. No doubt about His willingness to receive, His desire to be trusted. Thomas yields at once to the power of such a gracious Presence, unshackled by any of those false barriers we so often raise; the full warm gushing tide of adoring, embracing, confiding love goes forth and pours itself out in the expression, "My Lord and my God." Best and most blessed exercise of the spirit, when the eye in singleness of vision fixes upon Jesus, and, oblivious of itself and all about itself, the abashed heart fills with adoration, gratitude and love, and in the fulness of its emotion casts itself at the feet of Jesus, saying with Thomas, "My Lord, my God."
II. A guide and example to us how to treat those who have doubts and difficulties about the great facts and truths of religion. There was surely a singular toleration, a singular tenderness, a singular condescension in the manner of the Saviour's conduct here towards the doubting unbelieving apostle. There was much about those doubts of Thomas affording ground of gravest censure; the bad morale of the heart had much to do with them. It was not only an unreasonable; it was a proud and presumptuous position he took up, in dictating the conditions upon which alone he would believe. What abundant materials for controversy, for condemnation, did his case supply! Yet not by these does Jesus work upon him, but by love. And if in kindred case we could but present the Saviour as He is, and get the eye to rest upon Him, and the heart to take in a right impression of the depth, and the tenderness, and the condescension of His love, might not many a vexed spirit be led to throw itself down before such a Saviour, saying, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief."
W. Hanna, The Forty Days, p. 86.
Reference: John 20:24-29.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 537.
I. Thomas was evidently a man of reserved nature—a melancholy man—haunted, as we should say, by a painful sense of his own individuality. He could not look at the bright side of things. He only spoke three words in the Gospel—three words—if you look at them, all melancholy. In his conduct, as shown in this passage, there were two prime defects. (1) Thomas did not take the plan to overcome his doubts; he was away on the first meeting of the disciples, and he missed the Lord by his absence. He was not at church that morning. Where was he, the melancholy man? (2) "Except," says Thomas. You see, he fixed his own standard and measure of belief and of evidence. Poor Thomas is confounding together things that differ. He wanted knowledge, and he would have called it faith. He makes himself the centre of his belief. "Except I shall see, I will not believe." That is the keep of Doubting Castle.
II. Between the zero and the zenith of faith—the spiritual life in the soul of man—there are four states. (1) The first state is perfect spiritual abortion. Neither seeing nor believing. Such persons neither note God nor things; they never think of causes; they never say, "Who is God, my Maker?" To such persons all things seem to happen. Their state is unconscious Atheism. (2) The second state is that in which men see, but do not believe. Do you notice these words of Thomas, "I will not believe." The fountain of belief is in the will. The fountain of doubt is in the will. "It is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." (3) There is such a thing as believing and not seeing. If I could paint, I would paint Faith like a little child, leading Reason like a giant—like a stone-blind Belisarius—on his way. (4) It is possible to see and to believe. Truly this is the Divine life. In the world of sense they will tell you that you must see in order that you may believe. But my life has read me this lesson, that we must believe that we may see. How truly touching is that word pronounced by Thomas on his liberation from his despair, "My Lord and my God." Ah! instantaneous word; it solves all difficulty. Many long nights have I wept in the cell of Doubting Castle—now I am free. Many a time have I watched for sunrise over the marshes and the fens, and the mournful east winds swept by me and chilled my cheek and my heart—now Thou art come, Thou art come, and I am free, "my Lord and my God."
E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 85.
References: John 20:24-30.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 426. John 20:24-31.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 295.
John 20:25I. The doubt of Thomas was the resisting of a heart to whom the good news seemed to be too good to be true. Thomas could not believe that the Lord who was dead is really alive. The others imagined they had seen Him, but might it not be that it was, after all, what they themselves had first supposed, a spirit that they had believed too easily? That they were knowingly trying to deceive him he could not fancy; but might they not have deceived themselves; and if the Lord was risen, why was he the only one that had not seen Him? He could not see the character of his own compassionate tender Master in such dealing. That alone to my mind explains the continued doubting of the apostle.
II. There is a mighty difference between those who nurse their doubts, and the doubting Thomas. There is a world of difference between those who would be rid of their doubts but cannot, yet who still are sad, and downcast, and sorrowful through their doubts, and the modern doubters, at least some of them, who love not God, who dishonour Christ, who will not come unto Him that they may have life, who prefer the darkness because their deeds are evil—a world of difference. Let us never associate the two classes. Let us be charitable with the honest doubter; God will take care of him, as He took care of Thomas. But we can have no sympathy with the dishonest doubter, who often makes his doubts the plea for carelessness and Godlessness. But I mean for God's own children, blessed are they that have not seen Him and have believed. The spirit of Thomas is too frequent among us Christians still; busy in many a God-fearing heart, and doing its own terrible work there; robbing men of their rightful heritage, and making them fearful and sad, when they might have joy and peace in believing. There must surely in such a case be something wrong. If it be distrust, and fear, and doubt that find a place within a Christian's heart, instead of peace and joy, much of it, I think, may be traced to the imperfect view that many have of the Gospel of Christ. It is faith in the Son of God that alone can strengthen a man, that can alone make a man free, that can alone relieve the burden of the mind, and give the sad one joy and peace. "Whom having not seen we love, and in Whom, believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
D. Macleod, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 168.
References: John 20:25.—H. P. Liddon, Christmastide Sermons, p. 1. John 20:26.—J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity, p. 230.
John 20:26-29I. The meeting renewed. I think that Dr. Vaughan has somewhere suggested, that although we have no record of the circumstance, it is possible that Christ, when with the disciples on the first occasion, expressed His will that henceforth the Sabbath should be transferred from the seventh to the first day. They seem to have met in a special manner on the first day in this second instance; a fact not easy to account for, except on the theory of a special law of Christ to that effect, given by word of lip or by motion of His secret Spirit.
II. The absentee returned. Thomas, as a true man, could not remain an absentee. Everything in grace, like everything in nature, will sooner or later go to its own company, and so did Thomas.
III. How the unbelief was dealt with. It is the affliction of a true disciple, and so the Saviour dealt with it. Unbelief has many varieties, and sometimes seems to proceed on different lines; but although at first the difference between these lines is great, they all converge to one point, and, if not arrested, work on to one fearful finality. The unbelief of Thomas was temperamental. There is an infinite difference between the unbelief which says a thing is not true, because it wishes it not to be true, and the unbelief which says a thing is not true, but would give all the world to be sure that it is true—between the unbelief of Thomas and the unbelief of Pilate; between the vibration of a tower and its fall. Jesus owns the difference. Full of sympathy, He stooped to heal the sickness and set right the error of a disciple, whose unbelief rose in its cry out of a broken heart.
IV. Jesus, in dealing with the unbelief of Thomas, revealed His forgiving love. Infirmity given way to and persisted in deepens into sin; and thus was sin developed out of the infirmity of this disciple. With patient pity, Christ sought the poor wanderer, and with unspeakable tenderness brought him back.
V. The confession made. "And Thomas answered and said unto Him, my Lord and my God." Touch was not thought of now. Christ was fully revealed. The grace of the offer was a revelation, the tone of the voice was a revelation; the forgiveness was a revelation, it was like Jesus, and like no one else; the result was instant surrender. Love has sharp sight and quick responsiveness; in the new light, yet mingled with a sense of mystery, he recognised the Lord of his heart; with wonder, with tender and exquisite ecstasy, and with adoring prostration of soul, he cried, "My Lord and my God."
C. Stanford, From Calvary to Olivet, p 221.
John 20:27(with Hebrews 4:3)
St. Thomas—Faith Triumphant in Doubt
I. Two sorts of language are held respecting faith and belief; each combining in itself, as often happens, a curious mixture of truth and error. The one insists that belief is a thing wholly independent of our will, depending simply on the greater or less force of the evidence set before our minds; and that therefore, as faith can be no virtue, so unbelief can be no sin. The other pronounces that all unbelief arises out of an evil heart, and a dislike to the truths taught; nay, that if any man even disbelieves any proposition not properly religious in itself, but generally taught along with such as are religious, he cannot be considering the truth or falsehood of the particular question, simply as it is in itself true or false, but must disbelieve, because he has a dislike to other truths which are really religious. The two passages which I have chosen together for my text, will illustrate the question before us. The belief by which we enter into God's rest is clearly something moral. The unbelief of the apostle Thomas, which could not at once embrace the fact of the Lord's resurrection, assuredly arose from no wish or feeling in his mind against it.
II. The unbelief which is a sin is, to speak generally, an unbelief of God's commandment, or of anything which He has told us, because we wish it not to be true. The unbelief which may be no sin, is a disbelief of God's promises, because we think them too good to be true; in other words, the believing not for joy; or again, the disbelief of such points about which our wishes are purely indifferent; we neither desire to believe nor have any reluctance to do so, but simply the evidence is not sufficient to convince us. Is our unbelief that of the apostle Thomas? No, I believe most rarely. Our unbelief is an unbelief of anything rather than of the truth of Christ's promises; our difficulty lies anywhere else but there. Our unbelief relates to Christ's warnings, to His solemn declarations of the necessity of devoting ourselves wholly to His service, to His assurances that there will be a judgment to try the very heart and reins, and a punishment for those who are condemned in that judgment, beyond all that our worst fears can reach to. It is not to such unbelievers that Christ reveals Himself. The gracious words, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands," will never be spoken to them. The faith we need is a faith not of words but of feeling; not contented with merely not denying, but with its whole heart and soul affirming.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 223.
The Place of the Senses in Religion
I. A first object of our Lord's words in the text was, we may dare to say, to place the truth of His resurrection from the dead beyond doubt in the mind of St. Thomas. It was more important to Thomas that he should be convinced of the truth of the resurrection than that he should first learn the unreasonableness of his motive for hesitating to believe it; and therefore our Lord meets him on his own terms. Thomas, though unreasonable, should be gratified; he should know by sensible pressure of his hand and finger, that he had before him no unsubstantial phantom form, but the very body that was crucified, answering in each open wound to the touch of sense, whatever new properties might have also attached to it.
II. And a second lesson to be learnt from these words of our Lord is the true value of the bodily senses in the investigation of truth. There are certain terms which they, and they only, can ascertain, and in verifying which they may and must be trusted. It is a false spiritualism which would cast discredit on the bodily senses acting within their own province. It is false to the constitution of nature, for if the bodily senses are untrustworthy, how can we assume the trustworthiness of the spiritual senses? Religion does touch the material world at certain points, and the reality of its contact is to be decided, like all material facts, by the experiment of bodily sense. Whether our Lord really rose with His wounded body from the grave or not, was a question to be settled by the senses of St. Thomas, and our Lord, therefore, submitted Himself to the exacting terms which St. Thomas laid down as the conditions of faith.
III. And we learn, thirdly, from our Lord's words how to deal with doubts of the truth of religion, whether in ourselves or other people. Our Lord's prescription for dealing with doubt may be summed up in this rule—make the most of such truth as you still recognise, and the rest will follow. Thomas did not doubt the report of his senses. Well, then, let him make the most of that report. There is an intercommunication between truth and truth which lies in the nature of things, and the sway and guidance of which cannot be resisted by an honest mind; so that when any one truth is really grasped as true, the soul is in a fair way to recover healthiness of tone, and to put an end to the miserable reign of vagueness and doubt.
H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 257.
References: John 20:27.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 278; R. Maguire, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 252; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 169; E. Boaden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 404; J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 177; Three Hundred Outlines from the New Testament, p. 104; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 54. John 20:27, John 20:28.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 68; T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 156. John 20:27-29.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 341.
John 20:28I. We are, I think, hardly apt to be enough aware how much of all our Christian faith and hope must rest on the reality of our Lord's resurrection. It is, in the first place, the fulfilment of all prophecy. I mean, that whereas all prophecy looks forward to the triumph of good over evil—to its triumph not partially merely, but entirely, and with over-measure—so the resurrection of Christ is, as yet, the only adequate fulfilment of these expectations; but it is itself fully adequate. If Christ's triumph was complete, so also may be the triumph of those that are Christ's. But without this, let hope go as far as she will, let faith be ever so confident, still prophecy has been unfulfilled, still experience gives no encouragement.
II. Well, then, may it be said with the apostle, that if Christ is not risen our faith is vain. His resurrection was, indeed, almost too great a joy to be believed. There might be illusion; the spirit of One so good, so beloved by God, might be allowed to return to comfort His friends, to assure them that death had not done all his work; but who could dare to hope that he should see, not the spirit of the dead, but the very person of the living Jesus? Surely it was a natural conviction of such overwhelming blessedness? "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." Thanks be to God, who allowed His apostle to be thus careful ere he consented to believe, that we from His care might derive such perfect confidence.
III. Jesus said unto him, "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed." A few days before Christ had prayed, not for His present disciples only, but for all those who were to believe on Him through their word. How graciously is His act in accordance with His prayer. The beloved disciple who had seen first the empty sepulchre, and who was now rejoicing in the full presence of Him who had been there, he was to convey what he had himself seen to the knowledge of posterity. And he was to convey it hallowed as it were by Christ's especial message—"Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed." We have all our portion in the full conviction then afforded that He was risen indeed; and besides all this we have received a peculiar blessing; Christ Himself gives us the proof of His resurrection, and blesses us for the joy with which we welcome it.
T. Arnold, Sermons., vol. vi., p. 172.
References: John 20:28.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1775; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 32.
John 20:29I. St. Thomas loved his Master, as became an apostle, and was devoted to his service; but when he saw Him crucified, his faith failed for a season with that of the rest. Being weak in faith, he suspended his judgment, and seemed resolved not to believe anything till he was told everything. Accordingly, when our Saviour appeared to him, eight days after His appearance to the rest, while He allowed Thomas his wish, and satisfied the senses that He was really alive, He accompanied the permission with a rebuke, and intimated that by yielding to his weakness, He was withdrawing from him what was a real blessedness. Consider then the nature of the believing temper, and why it is blessed.
I. Every religious mind, under every dispensation of Providence, will be in the habit of looking out of and beyond self, as regards all matters connected with the highest good. For a man of religious mind is he who attends to the rule of conscience, which is born with him, which he did not make for himself, and to which he feels bound in duty to submit. And conscience immediately diverts his thoughts to some Being exterior to himself, who gave it, and who evidently is superior to him; for a law implies a lawgiver, and a command implies a superior. He looks forth into the world to seek Him who is not of the world, to find behind the shadows and deceits of this shifting scene of time and sense, Him whose word is eternal, and whose presence is spiritual. This is the course of a religious mind, even when it is not blessed with the news of divine truth; and how much more will it welcome and gladly commit itself to the hand of God, when allowed to discern it in the Gospel. Such is faith as it arises in the multitude of those who believe, arising from their sense of the presence of God, originally certified to them by the inward voice of conscience.
II. This blessed temper of mind, which influences religious men in the greater matter of choosing or rejecting the Gospel, extends itself also into their reception of it in all its parts. As faith is content with but a little light to begin its journey by, and makes it much by acting upon it, so also it reads, as it were by twilight, the message of truth in its various details. It keeps steadily in view that Christ speaks in Scripture, and receives His words as if it heard them, as if some superior and friend spoke them, One whom it wished to please. Lastly, it rests contented with the revelation made to it; it has "found the Messias," and that is enough. The very principle of its former restlessness now keeps it from wandering when the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding to know the true God; wavering, fearfulness, superstitious trust in the creature, pursuit of novelties, are signs, not of faith, but of unbelief.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 13.
Not Seeing, yet Believing
I. It would be a vain and presumptuous thing to attempt to determine positively what was the cause of Thomas's unbelief, on the occasion to which these words refer. Some have endeavoured to excuse him altogether. But our Saviour's few emphatic words plainly show some failing in his mind, which was not to be justified. Otherwise He would not have said, "Be not faithless." However, it is quite according to what we all feel in our own hearts, to suppose that two feelings met in Thomas's mind. One entirely bad—a proud feeling—that having been absent on the previous Sunday, on the occasion of Christ's showing Himself to His other disciples, being vexed with himself, he did not like to receive from others what he would so much rather have witnessed himself. This supposition is confirmed by the resoluteness of the language he uses about it—for we never use resolute language unless we are conscious of an inward vexation. And the other feeling which Thomas probably had in his mind was this, that he wished it it to be just as he said; but the very eagerness of his desire became its own stumbling block, the intensity of the light made the light invisible—in other words, it was "too good to be true."
II. Now, take it either way, or take it both ways, and there are many Thomases. But wherein was Thomas's error? Does God expect us to believe on insufficient evidence? Thomas's error was this: Christ, before He died, had spoken the word—He had spoken it more than once—He had said "I will rise again." If the Lord had not said this, Thomas might have been excused; for then he would only have been disbelieving man; but now, when he was told that Christ had appeared, he ought to have recollected what he had heard Christ Himself say. He was responsible to do that; and against that word of Christ's, he ought not to have allowed any circumstances of sense or reason, however strong they might be, and however they might run counter to it, to weigh one single feather. The inference is clear, that whoever would be blessed must feel and show he feels the absolute claim, and the full certainty, and the entire supremacy of every word of Almighty God.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 335.
I. Our Lord does not treat the doubt of Thomas as a sin. There is not the slightest trace of fault-finding in what He says to him. He only tells him that his is not the most blessed state. The most blessed state is that of those who can believe without such proof as this. There are such minds. There are minds to whom the inward proof is everything. They believe not on the evidence of their senses or of their mere reason, but on that of their consciences and hearts. Their spirits within them are so attuned to the truth that the moment it is presented to them they accept it at once. And this is certainly far the higher state—the more blessed, the more heavenly. But still the doubt of St. Thomas was not a sinful doubt.
II. St. Thomas's doubt is a type and his character an example of what is common among Christians. There are many who are startled at times by strange perplexities. Doubts arise in their minds, or are suggested by others, about doctrines which they have always taken for granted, or about facts connected with those doctrines. What shall we do when we find these difficulties arise? (1) In the first place let us not permit them to shake our hold of God and of conscience. However far our doubts may go, they cannot root up from within us, without our own consent; the power which claims to guide our lives with supreme authority. They cannot obliterate from within us the sense of right and wrong, and of the everlasting difference between them. By this a man may yet live if he have nothing else to live by, and God will assuredly give him more in his own good time. (2) But again, let us not treat such doubts as sins, which they are not, but as perplexities, which they are. As we must not quit our hold on God, so do not let us fancy that God has quitted His hold on us. Doubts are in fact as much the messengers of God's providence as any other voices that reach us. They may distress us, but they cannot destroy us, for we are in the hands of God. (3) In all such cases remember St. Thomas, and feel sure that what is wanting Christ will give. You are not called on to believe till you are fully able to do so; but you are called on to trust.
Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 90.
References: John 20:29.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 172; T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 174; C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 414; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 329; W. Frankland, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 180; vol. ii., p. 340; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. vi., p. 1; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 335; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 268; G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 50; T. T. Lynch, Sermons for my Curates, p. 33.
John 20:30-31I. We have here set forth the incompleteness of Scripture. Nations and men appear on its pages abruptly, rending the curtain of oblivion, and striding to the front of the stage for a moment; and then they disappear, swallowed up of night. It has no care to tell the stories of any of its heroes, except for so long as they were the organs of that Divine breath, which, breathed through the weakest reed, makes music. The self-revelation of God, not the acts and fortunes of even His noblest servants, is the theme of the Book. It is unique in the world's history, unique in what it says, and no less unique in what it does not say.
II. Notice the more immediate purpose which explains all these gaps and inconsistencies. John's Gospel, and the other three Gospels, and the whole Bible, New Testament and Old, have this for their purpose, to produce in men's hearts the faith in Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God. Christ, the Son of God, is the centre of Scripture; and the Book—whatever may be the historical facts about its origin, its authorship and the date of the several portions of which it is composed—the Book is a unity, because there is driven right through it, like a core of gold, either in the way of prophecy and onward-looking anticipation, or in the way of history and grateful retrospect, the reference to the one "Name that is above every Name," the Name of the Christ the Son of God.
III. Notice the ultimate purpose of the whole. Scripture is not given to us merely to make us know something about God in Christ, nor only in order that we may have faith in the Christ thus revealed to us; but for a further end, great, glorious, but not distant—namely, that we may have life in His Name. Life is deep, mystical, inexplicable by any other words than itself. It includes pardon, holiness, well-being, immortality, heaven; but it is more than they all. Union with Christ in His Sonship, will bring life into dead hearts. He is the true Prometheus who has come from heaven with fire, the fire of the Divine life in the reed of His humanity, and He imparts it to us all if we will. He lays Himself upon us, as the prophet laid himself upon the little child in the upper chamber; and lip to lip, and beating heart to dead heart, He touches our death, and it is quickened into life.
A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 131.
References: John 20:30, John 20:31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1631; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 78; F. D. Maurice, Gospel of St. John, p. 443; J. Wordsworth, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 233; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 233.
John 20:31The Trinity Disclosed in the Structure of St. John's Writings
I. The Gospel of St. John commences with a solemn exposition of the Divinity of the Word and Son of God, considered in His immediate relation to the Deity of the Father, as commissioned to represent His unapproachable glory in the world of time and sense. It is the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. "He is the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, and hath declared Him." But in the influences of the second, a new power is discovered, which all Scripture assigns to a third agent; and thus in the brief preface, the Father, the Word made flesh, the inworking Spirit proceeding from both, are shadowed before us; the opening prologue presents a summary of the whole majestic drama which follows.
II. The great article of faith which the Church commemorates on Trinity Sunday pervades the works of St. John, not only as a separate truth, but as a presiding principle; not only in the phraseology of the parts, but in the structure of the whole. We see that to him, the threefold activity of Father, Son and Spirit, was indeed the abstract of theology; it is a plastic power, working the whole mass of the composition to its peculiar type; somewhat as the vital principle of an organised frame silently gathers the entire aggregate of particles into the definite form appropriate to itself. In making this threefold distinction the basis of his whole scheme of instruction, St. John has taught you not only its absolute truth, but its relative importance. Learning from him the proportion of the faith, we will safely value that most which he thought most precious. If, under those brief but wondrous words—Father, Son and Spirit—he was accustomed to classify all the bright treasures of his inspiration; if into this mould every narrative, every exhortation, naturally flowed; if he was wont to see, in the adoration that bowed before this mysterious Triad of eternal powers, the last and loftiest act of religion; we cannot be wrong in preserving the equilibrium that he has fixed. And if to him this great belief was more than belief, this light was also life. May we also find in the Trinity, the ground of practical devotion, pure and deep, till, quickened by the power of this faith, the Three that bear record in heaven shall bear witness in our hearts.
W. Archer Butler, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 64.
References: John 20:31.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 275; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 48; vol. iii., p. 289; F. W. Farrar, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 85. John 20—W. Sanday, The Fourth Gospel, p. 258. John 20, John 21—J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, vol. ii., p. 31.
Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.