And sees two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.…
May we not take this as a parable of —
I. THE WAY IN WHICH WE MISAPPREHEND THE ACTUAL FACTS OF OUR EXPERIENCE.
1. God comes to us, but not in the form that we expect, and therefore we do not recognize Him. It is a misfortune that befals us, not a providence; a cruel mocker who has taken away the body, not a Divine hand. Mary thought only of the adversaries of God, frustrating His purposes. Peter afterwards said they did "whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done."
2. How often it is the Christ, when we think it is only the gardener I A preacher uttering vague thoughts in a blundering way may be Christ speaking to human souls. The chancest meeting in the street may be Christ diverting the entire course of our lives. Should we not learn to see Christ in every form? And is not half the sorrow of our life because we do not see Him where He really is — in providences, in rough forms of character, in homely forms of work, in diversified forms of theological thought, Church life, goodness? In a thousand things it is only the gardener, because our eyes are blinded by prejudice or sorrow.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH WE MISAPPREHEND THE PROCESSES THAT GOD IS CONDUCTING WITH US. We weep in bitterness over a lost blessing when it is simply its transformation into a higher one. "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." "It is expedient for you that I go away," &c. How we weep over the grave of buried things — lost beliefs, habits, forms of service, as if truth, or usefulness, or goodness, or even the Christ, were slain, when they are simply being transformed. It is as if the husbandman were to weep over his decomposing seed corn, the child over his outgrown clothes, the lad over his disused school-books. God is teaching us that "We rise on stepping-stones of our dead selves to nobler things." When the plant becomes pot-bound the gardener breaks the pot as the first essential condition of its development. Before Christ can be to the disciples the Christ of resurrection life and glory, He must be crucified and entombed. And the ignorant affection of His disciples weeps. We cling even to the dead forms of things because they have been precious, but God's laws of development demand that we should let the dead bury their dead, and follow Him.
1. Our theological beliefs advance to more perfect truth by the falling away of old forms and the development of new ones. From the Day of Pentecost we have ever been advancing. In educating your children you begin with a picture alphabet and end in abstract reasoning. Or you begin with simple commands, and then appeal to intelligence. But when the youth becomes the man, the law of obedience is superseded. It has so educated his mind and heart that he has become a law unto him. self. And you do not think that moral safeguards are relaxed when the youth obeys from reason and the man becomes a law to himself. So God educates us. The evidences which attested Him to the older Church were miracles; then came the prophets, when miracles ceased, and the intelligent reason was appealed to; then the spiritual economy of Christ, when men believed in Christ, not because of His miracles or intellectual arguments, but because He spake directly to their souls "told them all that ever they did," met their sense of spiritual need.
(1) Proofs of the being of a God are changing. Those from causation, design, miracle, special providence, are, of course, as absolutely true as ever; but a keen dialectic discovers flaws in the reasoning, incompleteness in the demonstration. We have come to feel that the most conclusive of all proofs is that we are spiritual men. Our spirits answer to His spiritual nature as the wards of a lock to its key. We do not prove God by argument so much as we see and feel Him. And is not this proof far more conclusive? And yet how many think material proof more satisfactory! Let one of them fail, and they feel — "They have taken away my God, and I know not where they have put Him." But may not this very discomfiture be the means of driving our belief in God to the higher ground? Now we believe, not because of the proof of science, but because we have seen Him ourselves. The most ignorant peasant whose soul is filled with the life and light of God has a much surer ground than all the evidences of Paley.
(2) Our conceptions of the character and feelings of God change and develop with our spiritual education. It is so in the Bible. In the earlier books the predominant conception is that of sternness. He is holy, majestic, distant. How this is softened in the time of David and the prophets! When we come to the New Testament — to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — the revolution of feeling is almost startling. And the development has never been arrested. Every generation has attained to a higher conception of God than its predecessor. To us God is more of a gracious, tender Father than He was fifty years ago. Old men see this with apprehension; they cling to their old Calvinism, and tell you that the sense of righteousness has relaxed with the sternness of law. Nay, God's hold upon our affections is stronger than upon our fears. The Divine Father is more than the Divine Magistrate?
(3) Are not our conceptions of Christ Himself ever rising in truth and spirituality? Less and less we "know Him after the flesh," more and more we know Him after the Spirit. Take for example —
(a) His Incarnation. Less and less it is an arbitrary conjunction of two different natures; more and more it is a coming together of profound and wonderful affinities. Man bears God's image, therefore God takes upon Him man's nature. When we are asked about the Incarnation we do not so eagerly have recourse to proof texts. As with the being of a God, so with the Incarnation of the Christ, the proof may be argued on purely intellectual grounds, but we have come to think that the supreme proof is the religious and spiritual demonstration. The Incarnation exactly and fully meets all the necessities of my spiritual nature. So I believe in gravitation and electricity, not because I can demonstrate them, but because, assuming them by hypothesis, they perfectly account for all the phenomena.
(b) So we give more emphasis than our fathers did to the human element of our Lord's nature. Where they debated about His Divinity and devoutly worshipped Him as God, we think of His humanity and rapturously love Him as man. It is not that we believe in the Divinity the less, but we see how He embodies His Divinity in humanity, so that He can live, and suffer, and sympathize, and die. He is Divine because He is so grandly, helpfully human.
(c) Much more marked have been the changes through which the doctrine of atonement has passed. There was the strange idea held by the early Church, that the death of Christ was a ransom price paid to the devil; then there was the theory that it was the necessity of a struggle between justice and mercy; then there was the forensic theory; then there was the commercial theory; then there was the predestinarian theory. We have attained larger, freer, more spiritual conceptions of it, as a grand moral process, embodying great principles, and satisfying eternal righteousness and love. And every generation has felt, in the giving way of its special theory of the Atonement, as if the atonement itself must be surrendered. It was only the chrysalis that was falling away, that the Atonement itself might be the more grandly conceived.
2. Men's theories about the Bible undergo development. We get nobler conceptions of its inspiration and more spiritual conceptions of its meaning. It is the very lowest theory that every letter of it is Divinely dictated. It is surely higher to conceive of the entire moral nature of the sacred writer as engaged in receiving and recording the Divine revelation. And yet when you assail the mechanical theory, which the facts utterly discredit, in order to assert the spiritual theory, men cry out that you are bereaving them of the very ark of God. They cling to the letter, which killeth, and are afraid of the Spirit, which really makes both the writer and the book a living power.
3. Similar things may be said concerning conceptions of the Church. Every development of Church life and liberty and spirituality has been ennobled by the throwing off of some old restrictive ecclesiasticism. And the emancipating process has caused alarm. How the Temple Jews would despise the worship of the Upper Room; and yet there the promise of the Father was realized. In manifold forms the Christian Church has been, and is, as intolerant as Old Judaism itself. And when men began to ask whether organized Church societies, however legitimate and expedient in themselves, were really identical with the Saviour's conception of His Church, and claimed that the New Testament Church included all men everywhere who truly loved Him,the timid got alarmed, and thought that the Church itself was being denied. At every step the cry of alarm, and sacrilege, and infidelity is raised, and that which is really emancipation, and advance to higher spirituality and greater moral power, is regarded as the destruction of sacred and precious things. So when barriers round the table of the Lord are broken down; so when the ecclesiastical conditions of Church membership are made easier.
4. So, again, good men are terrified when the personal religious life of a man is emancipated from mere precept and tradition, and thrown upon living principle and intuitive love, when bonds of asceticism are broken, and the Divine use and good of all things is freely enjoyed. How many pious people of the past generation deemed religion itself imperilled when Methodist bonnets and Quaker coats were laid aside! How much faith has rested in the cowl of the monk or the hood of the nun, and how weak the faith that so rests!
5. The same principle would apply to the course and process of God's providential dealing with our life. He smites away the lower good in which we have rested that He may put us in possession of the higher good which otherwise we should not seek. Friends, health, property — these were the husks and props of our strength. They fall away, and we cry out in helpless desolateness; the good of our life has failed, its pleasant things are laid waste. "What good shall my life do me?" Nay, but these simply hindered and concealed our real life; they are but as the fleshly Christ; they perish, and we are thrown upon more spiritual things; we develop into a nobler life.
6. The crowning illustration is the life that comes through death. How we weep over our dead, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died"! True, but neither would he have been raised from the dead. Our dead friends are more to us than when they lived; not more to the sense, but more to the soul.
(H. Allon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.