2 Timothy 1:10
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death…
By what means has Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light? I bring a triple reply. By His teaching, by His redemption, by His resurrection. Let us touch upon each of these points.
1. By His teaching, I said; but I must explain my thought. Do I mean that Jesus Christ brought to men logical arguments in order to prove eternal life, that He made of them a learned, rigorous, invincible demonstration, that He gave to the proofs which the philosophers employed before Him an irrefutable value, that He Himself added new proofs which convinced the reason for ever? Never, brethren; I will not say that, because I do not think it. Jesus Christ never undertook to prove the future life, and you will seek in vain on His lips for a single scientific reasoning which had that aim: the gospel no more demonstrates the future life than it demonstrates the existence of God. Brought it to light! How? What must be done in order to bring immortality to light? Ah! I understand you. The mysterious veil must be removed which hides the invisible world from us, that it may be penetrated and its secrets told to us. We ourselves are fatally arrested on the shores of the formidable ocean of death, and we do not know whether any new land shines there, beyond the flood, on the mysterious horizon. Darkness covers its waves; we try to throw light upon them, to direct the rays of our thought upon their depths; but that thought, which can follow the stars in their courses and calculate the laws of the world, is exhausted in the haze. We listen, and we hear only the monotonous noise of the billows in which the groanings of all past generations seem to be mingled, swallowed up in the common shipwreck which awaits us all. No one has come from that world, we say, to relate its secrets to us. But let some one appear, let him satisfy our ardent curiosity, let him tell us what heaven is, let him depict its beauties, let him recount the life which is the lot of the happy in glory, and our thirst will at least be appeased. Now, has Jesus Christ done that? Has He related to us what passes in heaven? Has He unveiled its mysteries to us? So little, as has been often remarked, that the gospel yields nothing here to our curiosity. If to bring immortality to light signifies to relate the secrets of the invisible world, it must resolutely be said, Jesus Christ has not done that. How striking does that moderation appear when we think that Jesus Christ could so easily have inflamed the souls of His disciples, and encouraged them to die, by depicting to them the splendours and the enjoyments of the world beyond! Recall the many founders of religion and false prophets who sent their disciples to death, intoxicating them with the promise of the delights which paradise reserved for them. In the teaching of Jesus Christ there is nothing like that. We see what Jesus Christ has not done, and what we might have expected from Him. I come back to my question: How has He, by His teaching, brought life and immortality to light? To solve it, to understand the novelty of His teaching as to this, let us see what ideas Jesus Christ found reigning around Him on this point. What did the hook of the Jews, the Old Testament, teach on this matter? I hear it affirmed to-day that the idea of the future life is foreign to the Old Testament. In support of that idea the silence of the Old Testament is alleged as to the point. Let us examine it. I open the Old Testament, that book to which the idea of immortality has remained, so it is said to us, almost unknown, and in its first pages I see announced the startling fact that death was not in the first intention and will of God; that it is a disorder, an overthrow, fruit of that moral overthrow called sin. Whence this conclusion is imposed on us, that man, created in the image of God, is made by Him for immortality. And in the pages which follow, speaking of a patriarch who walked in the ways of God, the Bible tells us of Enoch, as farther on it tells of Elijah, that he returned to God without passing through death. I come to the law of Moses. There is no mention made in it of eternity, I acknowledge this without hesitation; but I beg to remark that the question here is of a code addressed to a people, and that peoples do not live again as peoples. Legislation relates only to the present life; when even it should have to do with a religion like that of Moses, it would have to do with it only by its visible sides. The sole sanctions which it could promise are temporal sanctions; it has not to penetrate into the world beyond, for its mission expires there. After the law come the Psalms and the prophets. The Psalms — ah! I know they often express, with a bitter sadness, the idea that the activity of man ends at the tomb; but, to-day, could you not catch on the lips of a Christian similar expressions, when he thinks of the brevity of life, of the little time which is given him here below to serve his God? In addition to which, by the side of those longings, those presentiments of eternity, there are, I acknowledge, doubts, anxieties, uncertainties, in the presence of death among the believers of the Old Testament. It is still the age of twilight; shadows are everywhere mingled with the light. We can now imagine the state of beliefs in the centre where Jesus Christ appeared. What did Jesus Christ do? He sanctioned by His Divine authority belief in the Resurrection; He openly combated Sadduceeism; He returned unceasingly to the great thought of a last judgment; but is that all? If I wish to sum it up in one word, I do not hesitate to say that Jesus Christ has founded the faith in eternal life. And how? It was not always in simply supposing it, in illuminating all His teachings with that light, it was not only in speaking of heaven, as Fenelon has so admirably put it, as a son speaks of the house of his father; it is still, it is above all, in revealing to us an ideal of life to which our conscience is forced to subscribe, and which is a mockery if it should not continue and expand in eternity. What do all those words teach me? Eternal life. Listen "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted! Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled! Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth! Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!" Say if each of those words does not open before your gaze like a splendid vista into eternity itself. Tell me if each of those words does not end by stretching into eternal life. This simple example shows, in a striking manner, how Jesus Christ has founded faith in the future life. He has founded it on the human soul itself, interrogated in its deepest and truest instincts. Taught by that reflection, let us now take His teaching in its central and ruling thought. Indeed, how shall we seek the kingdom of God, if eternity is a vain word? How shall we pursue the ideal righteousness, if we ought to content ourselves with what the earth can give us? How shall we follow after holiness, if we must negative our living some day freed from that law of sin which we carry in our members? How shall we love, ill short, how shall we give our heart to God and to all Divine things, if we should not some day find God, and in Him possess all in eternity? Jesus Christ interrogates the human soul, and evokes in its depths those aspirations which eternity alone can satisfy. Hence, then, this is how the question shall be put: Faith in eternity will be faith even in the kingdom of God. The more we believe in the triumph of righteousness, of truth, of goodness, the more we shall believe in eternal life; the more satisfied we are with the present life, the less we shall understand that eternity is necessary. Instead of saying then, as the mystics will do after Christ, "Let your imagination lose itself in ecstasy, and you will see heaven"; instead of saying, as philosophers had said before Him, "Gather in your reason all the proofs which demonstrate immortality," Jesus Christ simply said, "Love, sanctify yourselves, thirst after righteousness; the more you do that, the more will eternity be necessary to you, the more you will love it, the more you will believe in it; for to live for holiness is to enter already, even here below, into eternal life." So, for Jesus Christ, eternal life begins, even here below, for every soul submissive to God; that word is used forty times in the New Testament, and it always designates the state of a soul which has entered into communion with God. There alone is true life in reality. Eternity embraces the present and the past as well as the future. Eternity, we are in eternity. For him who has entered into the plan of God, the heavenly kingdom begins even here below; only, while here below, everything is subjected to the blast of instability: in that other economy which we call heaven, life will be full and lasting, and joy will be there for ever.
2. That is how Jesus Christ, by His teaching, has founded faith in eternal life; but even that teaching had never sufficed to found that belief, if the work of redemption had not followed and crowned it. Eternal life is communion with God. But is it sufficient to tell us so? No, we have gone out from communion with God. Have we not all violated the law of the heavenly city, and can we enter it without a restorative act — without a holy pardon giving us access to it? The road which leads us to God passes the foot of a cross, and if that cross had not been planted that road would never have been opened to a single person. Without redemption there is no eternal life. It is by His Cross as much as by His teaching that Jesus Christ has brought immortality to light.
3. But would the Cross itself have had that efficacy if the Resurrection had not followed it? Listen to St. Paul. When he wrote to Timothy that Jesus Christ had conquered death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, on what, before all, did he place the accent if it was not on the resurrection of the Lord? What would remain of the gospel without the Resurrection? "The person of Jesus Christ and His teaching," you reply, "His life and His words, will always shine with the same lustre. What could a miracle add to the sublimity of His discourses, or of His character?" The reply seems plausible; and yet, I would ask your attention here to a fact. We have heard in our days many men holding the same language, who wanted a Christ without miracles and without a resurrection, who asked us what such prodigies added to His holiness. Years have passed, we have seen those men following the current of their thoughts; little by little the perfect holiness of Christ is obscured in their eyes; they have discovered blots in His life; His Divine aureole has grown pale; they see no more in Him to-day than the sage of Nazareth, sublime, but ignorant, and a sinner like all the children of men. In reflecting on this, I have found that the result of an irresistible logic was there. The person of Christ is one like His teaching. You cannot arbitrarily strike off such or such parts. All holds together in Him; His life, His words tend to the Resurrection as to their natural fulfilment; everything in Him supposes a victory over death; if that victory has not been obtained, His authority is shaken, His words lose something of their serene certitude, His ideal grandeur grows dim. As we have said, facts prove it every day. Let us suppose, however, that it is not so. Let us admit that Christ, conquered by death like all men, remains as grand, as holy. Have you reflected on the other side of the question? Have you asked yourself if faith in the future life would not for ever be shaken on the day when the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ should have disappeared from history?
(E. Bersier, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: