2 Timothy 1:10
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death…
It seems to me a very striking evidence of the pressure of the burden of life in our times that so many thoughtful and cultivated men and women outside the pale of our Churches are not only indifferent to, but contemptuous of, immortality. I trace the present terrible questionings, to use no stronger word, of the fundamental realities of our being, our relation to God as a living Being and our personal immortality, to no ignoble source. I believe that they are mainly due to the increased pressure of the burden of life under our present conditions of highly developed sympathies and lofty views of duty. Hence life seems full of sadness and confusion, and the doctrine is rather welcomed which finds many able, though sad, preachers in these days that at death we have done with it for ever. The doctrine of immortality is not so much formally asserted in Scripture as assumed throughout as the basis of its appeals, and of its treatment of the questions of conduct, of duty, with which it occupies itself. It is no new truth Which the New Testament discovers and makes known; an old truth, the oldest truth, old as the constitution of man's nature, is "brought to light by the gospel." The dim form of it is brought out into the daylight, and all men not only feel, but see, it to be a truth of God. Here, in the Bible, is the strong confirmation and assurance of the doctrine. No man can accept this revelation as containing God's counsel, and deny or question man's immortality. But while our faith rests securely on the revelation and the history which the ages have handed down, it is deeply important to consider how far the truth is supported or discredited by all that we can gather from other sources of the nature, the constitution, and the destiny of man. How far does the study of man's nature and history help or hinder our belief in immortality? The argument is as follows: The belief that Christ, the risen Christ, was reigning with almighty power, and subduing all things to Himself, was a thought ever present with the men of all classes, orders, and callings, who wrought most mightily on the reconstitution upon a Christian basis of human society. I say, reconstitution on a Christian basis of human society. I wish I had time to go into the question; I think it would not be difficult to show that human society within the civilised area was literally perishing of moral corruption, when the light and truth which Christianity brought into the world restored it at the very spring. Nothing is more marked in the apostolic age than the contrast between the despondent, despairing tone of the noblest pagan literature, which utters its deepest wail over the hopeless corruption of society, and the tone of vital animation, of buoyant, exultant hope which pervades the whole field of the intellectual and spiritual activity of the Christian Church. The one is manifestly the wail of a world settling into death, the other the joyful cry of a world new-born, and conscious of a vigorous, aspiring life. And behind the latter, its inspiring idea, its moving force, was the reign of the risen and living Lord. It was not the tale of Calvary simply, the history of the martyrdom of martyrdoms, mighty as was the influence which that could not but wield over men. It was distinctly belief in Christ as a reigning King: one who was a present and transcendent force in the government of all human affairs. I do not say that the result of this vision of the reigning Christ was such heavenly order on earth as reigns on high. Alas! no. Man's passion, selfishness, vanity, and lust are too strong. But I do affirm that this was the strongest principle, the conquering principle of resistance to all that had been wasting and destroying heathen society before Christ appeared. It was this which created the stern conflict against sin, vice, and wrong which has been fought out through all the Christian ages. So from the open tomb, whose bars the Saviour burst as He arose, a flood of glorious, kindling light streamed forth; it spread as dawn spreads in the morning sky; it touched all forms of things in man's dark and dreary world with its splendor, and called man forth from the tomb in which his higher life seemed buried to a new career of fruitful, sunlit activity, opening a wondrous depth of meaning in the Saviour's words, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." The exceeding readiness and joyfulness with which a truth so transcendently wonderful, so far out of and above the visible order of things, was welcomed everywhere, penetrating men's hearts as though they were made for it, as sunlight penetrates the darkness of the world, would be utterly inexplicable, except on the theory that they were made for it; that there was that in their nature which was pining and longing for it; which was made to live and rejoice in the light of it, as flowers drink in the light and the dew. They received the truth as truly the most natural of all things, according to the order of the higher nature; and they lodged it at once as an unquestionable verity in the treasury of their beliefs and hopes. It is easy to say in answer to this that it was a fascinating doctrine, and won its way easily by the promise which it appeared to hold forth to mankind. No wonder, it is said, men naturally long for immortality, and catch easily at any doctrine, however delusive, which seems to respond to their longing and justify their hope. "Man naturally longs for immortality." Let us look at it a little, and ask ourselves why he longs; how the idea could rise and take such firm possession of the strongest and most progressive races of our world. If he longs, it is somehow because he was made to long. Out of something in his constitution the longing springs. Now nature through all her orders seems to have made all creatures contented with the conditions of their life. The brute seems to rest with full contentment on the resources of his world. His soul shows no sign of being tormented by dreams; his life withers under no blight of regret. All creatures rest in their orders, and are content and glad. Violate the order of their nature, rob them of their congenial surroundings, and they grow restless, sad, and poor. Rob a flower of light or moisture, and it struggles with something like agonising earnestness in quest of them. This well-known tendency in perverted things to revert to the primitive type seems to be set in nature as a wonderful sign that things are at rest in their natural conditions — content with their life and its sphere; and that only by ways of which they are quite unconscious, and which rob them of no enjoyment of or contentment with their present, they prepare for the farther and higher developments of life. This restless longing in man, then, for that which is beyond the range of his visible world, this haunting of the unseen by his thoughts and hopes, this "eager hope, this fond desire, this longing after immortality," what does it mean? Has Nature, which makes all things, in all orders, at rest in their sphere, wantonly and cruelly made man, her masterpiece, restless and sad? We are driven to believe by the very order of Nature that this insatiable longing, which somehow she generates and sustains in man, and which is the largest feature in his life, is not visionary and futile, but profoundly significant, pointing with the surest, firmest finger to the reality, the solid enduring reality, of that sphere of being to which she has taught him to lift his thoughts and aspirations, and in which he will find, according to the universal order of the creation, the harmonious completeness of his life. It spread, then, the belief in this truth, rapidly, joyfully, irresistibly, not by art, not by fraud, not by force, but because it was of the nature of light which inevitably conquers and scatters darkness. Men saw themselves and their life, their present, their future, in the light of it, and the revelation was convincing. We have here, not the longing only, but, to carry it no further, we have the life of Christendom for eighteen centuries built on it; we have it as the mainspring of human progress for incomparably the most civilised, developed, and progressive era of human history. How did it come there? Either —
1. This result grew by natural development out of the precedent states and conditions of life, ascending under the guidance of what, for want of a better understanding of things, men call Nature — the vital force which is behind all the movement and progress of the world — through the successive stages of creature existence to the height of man. In that ease, what men call Nature would be responsible for it — and then this would result. There is no freedom or intelligent choice in Nature, according to the materialists. Everything that is grows out of its antecedents by inexorable law. But what it is impossible to believe is that Nature, the vital force, call it what you will, has pressed on the development up to man, and endowed man with this propulsive movement of his whole being towards the sphere of the spiritual, the immortal, the eternal, and then confesses its failure to carry it further, leaving its noblest child a prey to aimless longings and barren hope. Is there everywhere glorious progress up to man, while for man the way onward and upward, which Nature has somehow taught him to look for and to struggle towards, is finally and for ever barred? Is a broken column the perfect emblem of this great universe? Is its highest achievement a sad, wistful, hopeless life? For that is what man's life inevitably becomes when he is cut off from God and immortality. Nature does nothing in vain in the creation. All works into a sublime procession of progress. Let no one tempt you to believe that the procession halts, and that the progress which stretches through the whole chord of being, from a nebula to a constellation, from an atom to a world, from a cell-germ to a man, is broken off in man and dies out for ever.
2. Still more impossible is it to believe that this hope has no substance behind the veil to which it clings, and in which as an anchor of the soul it holds, on the other hypothesis, that the order of things is the work of a Divine hand, that the wisdom and power of God are at work on all developments and progresses of life. It seems blankly impossible to believe that God could have created man to imagine, to frame to himself, a picture of a whole universe of being behind the veil of sense, and beyond the river of death; could serenely watch him as he imagines it, and pleases himself with forecasting it as the theatre of his immortal life; could use it as an instrument to stir and stimulate his sluggish nature, and keep his faculties on the strain of effort by hope, when it is all a wretched illusion. Can it be believed for a moment that a wise Being can so have arranged His world that His loftiest creatures in nature and endowment can only live the lower life by dreaming about a higher, which is but a dream? If that is your scheme of the great creation, with man to head it, what kind of demon do you make of your God? No! Whether we look at this aspect and attitude of man towards the eternal as the last outcome of the vital pressure, be it what it may, which is working through creation, or as the fruit of the design of an intelligent Creator, who saw this end from the beginning of the processions of life — equally we are driven to the conviction which revelation makes sure, that man on the topstone of the material creation plants his foot on the threshold of a higher, a spiritual, an eternal world.
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
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: