Village Sermons by Robert Hawker
RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.
BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF A SERMON, PREACHED IN THE
PARISH CHURCH OF CHARLES, ON THE LORD’s
DAY MORNING, NOVEMBER 21, 1824.
OCCASIONED BY THE
DEATH OF HIS YOUNGEST DAUGHTER, AGED 32.
It may not be improper to state the occasion, which, under the Lord’s providence, gave rise to this sermon. It pleased the Lord to remove from me, by death, three days before the Lord’s Day, my beloved Sarah, the youngest of my children. I found it right to be at my post of duty as usual, on the Lord’s Day. And when the time for the pulpit service came; after humble supplication to the Lord, that “as my day, so might my strength be;” I addressed the Lord’s people to the following -purport:—
I believe that my attendance here this morning was not expected by some; and may be a matter of surprise to others. Those to whom it is known, that the Lord hath made a breach in my family, by the death of my child, may have supposed that my absence would have been excusable. But it is not so with me. I dared not, that my private feeling should take place of my public labors. The Lord’s cause supersedes with me every other consideration. True indeed it is, that by this event, the Lord hath made a deep wound in my heart. The incision hath been sharp and painful. And perhaps the more poignant from my age and increasing infirmities. Like an old tree of the forest over which the storms of many a winter hath beaten, my greenest branch is now broken off, and I myself am withering. But a wisdom which cannot err hath so appointed; and sure I am that in this, as in every other dispensation of the Lord to his people, a love which cannot fail, nor change, is also at the bottom: and while I bend submissively to the Lord’s holy will, I hear the Lord’s voice graciously speaking, in tender, but sovereign language: “Be still and know that I am God!” (Ps. 46:10). It is my mercy therefore, that the Lord dries the tear of nature; and grants me the suited grace. Moreover, according to the course of years, I have but a few sabbaths more to enjoy below; every one becomes the more precious in ministering to holy things, before the Lord shall take me home to the everlasting sabbath which is above.
Added to these considerations; I trace in the records of Scripture the uniform conduct of holy men of old, in their attendance on the Lord, in his house of prayer, when under bereavements. When David’s child lay dead, though during the suspense of the sickness the man of God “lay on the earth, and, fasted, and wept:” yet when the child was no more, the patriarch “arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord and worshipped.” And when this change of conduct called forth the astonishment of his servants, David explained it: “While the child was yet alive, (said he) I fasted and wept; for I said who can tell, whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him; but he shall not return to me,” (2 Sam. 12:15-23). When Job received the thundering messengers, following close upon the heels of each other; the loss of his substance, his cattle, his servants, and finally closing in the tidings with the death of his children; the patient mourner, though he felt all the workings of nature, from such accumulated sorrow, yet he felt also the supports of grace. “He arose (it is said) and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground and worshipped, and said: Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 1:13-21). And to mention no more. When the prophet Ezekiel received the summons from the Lord: “Son of man! behold I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke; yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep; neither shall thy tears run down. Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men. So I spake (said the prophet) unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died. And I did in the morning as I was commanded.” (Ezek. 24:15-18).
Beholding such illustrious examples, and animated by the grace of God; I am come forth this morning from the house of mourning to the house of praise: and for a while to forget the circumstances of the dying and the dead among men; to speak to you, and to myself of the living, and life-giving God. Indeed, I hope, that I am come, unto the church of our most glorious Christ this day with a message from the Lord. And if you will open your Bibles at the place of Scripture, 11th [of] John’s gospel, 25th and 26th verses, you will behold the proclamation by the Lord himself.
JESUS THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
I beseech you to pause over those divine words. What a sublimity there is in them We need not ask who is the Almighty Speaker; for we are told. And indeed it could be no other than He, “who is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” For what prophet, or apostle, yea, what angel or being among the whole creation of God, ever did, or ever could, assume such language, and say as Jesus did: “I am the resurrection and the life?”
And here I feel constrained to pause again, and to remark, that if, while the Lord himself makes this proclamation in your ears, the same Almighty God, by the influence of his Holy Spirit, were to give the saving unction and belief of it in your hearts, Imight shut up my sermon, before I proceeded farther to enlarge upon it. For if the redeemed and regenerated child of God, thus taught of God, was enabled spiritually to receive those divine truths with full assurance of faith; to realize them in his mind, and conscience; to live upon them day by day; to bring them into constant exercise and use; that they might lie down with him, and rise up with him, and be as frontlets between the eyes; the sweet savor would lift him out of himself, and above himself; and from all the sin and sorrow which he is the object and the subject of, from the Adam-fall transgression, and cause him to say with the apostle: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ,” (2 Cor. 2:14).
But let us take a leisurely survey, in profound meditation, of this whole proclamation of our most glorious Christ; and examine, one by one, the sublime truths, and mark their various bearings, as they have “reference, first, to his Almighty person; and then from their union with Him, as they relate also to his people.
And first: of the Almighty Speaker, “Jesus said! I am!” This great! “I” is he, whose being, and essence, is the sole cause of giving being to his people. For without him the whole body the church; whether in heaven or in earth, would be but as so many ciphers, so many nonentities. It is the Lord Jesus, by heading them, and standing before them, as the figure one in arithmetic, constitutes their number, and being.
Next observe what the Lord declares of himself “I am:” that is the only One, which is, and which was, and which is to come, (Rev. 1:8). Of creatures it may be said; some have been; some now are; and some may be hereafter. But of our most glorious Christ; He was, and is, and will be, the same, and unchangeably forever. As the Lord expressed himself to the Jews; “Before Abraham was, I am!” (John 8:58).
But we must not stop here. The Lord proceeds, in giving this sublime statement of himself, to show his eternal power and Godhead, by acts corresponding to the Almightiness of his person. “I am (he saith) the resurrection and the life.” Observe; he is not only the cause of the resurrection, and the life; but he is himself both. All is in himself; as well as by himself. It is not enough to say, that by the great and incommunicable salvation which he wrought he hath done all this for his people; but that he is himself the whole to his people. He is himself “the resurrection and the life.” His people were considered virtually all in him, and represented by him, when he did what he did, and suffered what he suffered, for their salvation. So that they were crucified with him, buried with him, “were raised up together with him, and made to sit together with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 2:5-6).
Neither is this all. For the Lord Jesus adds, that his people shall know all these things, and spiritually enjoy them, when, by the divine effects he works in their hearts, they are brought into a spiritual and scriptural apprehension of them, in their minds and consciences. “He that believeth in me (saith the Lord) though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever “liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die.” Here again, as in the former part of our Lord’s words, his own sovereignty is asserted, and assured. Living in him is the cause of believing in him: and as the one is productive of the other, faith, or belief, in Christ will necessarily follow life in Christ. And such a life and faith become the fullest demonstration, according to the apostle’s statement, of “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth, and. abideth for ever,” (1 Pet. 1:23). Oh! that this great truth, this glorious truth, was so fully incorporated in the soul of the Lord’s redeemed and regenerated family, that every child of God, which is brought into an acquaintance with the plague of his own, heart, could, and did, calculate rightly his vast privileges in Christ. He would then enter into the divine enjoyment of what John calls, “the record God hath given to his church of eternal life. For this life is in the Son: and he that hath the Son hath life; and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life,” (1 John 5:11-12; John 5:24).
Such is the soul-animating subject proposed to our spiritual meditation in those sublime words of our most glorious Lord. My intention is, as the Lord shall be pleased to direct me, in the first place, to call your attention to the contemplation of the Almighty Speaker, proclaiming himself and his divine person under those distinguishing characters: “I am the resurrection and the life.” And when, (if the Lord so graciously teach) we have received spiritual and scriptural apprehension of the infinite greatness of his person, so as to stand impressed with the full assurance of his eternal power and Godhead, under those almighty characters; we will go on in the second branch of the discourse to look into the divine operations of the same in ourselves, and see whether we ourselves are the subjects and objects of this belief in him; the both will form a blessed matter of discourse to revive our drooping spirits under all that we are called to the exercise of, in this sorrowful, sinful, dying world. And the question, with which our glorious Lord closed this Scripture, will be the proper close upon the present occasion for you and for me each to put to ourselves, to discover our own personal interest in the whole: “Believest thou this?”
Let me however detain you one moment, to remark to you the vast and infinite importance of the subject itself; and to observe that the apprehension of it can only be understood spiritually. The new birth, or regeneration, is indispensably necessary for an entrance into the kingdom of grace here, as well as glory hereafter. And this is solely the free gift of God: for the gospel saith, “to as many as the Lord gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name; which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:13).
And let me beg that you would take, with this observation, another intimately connected with it, before you enter upon the subject; namely, that as we are altogether passive in the first receiving of the new-birth or spiritual life; so are we in all the after-stages for the preservation of that life. He, that is the resurrection to quicken, is the source also to keep alive. Hence, our most glorious Christ is “divinely suited for saint and sinner; for the sinner to quicken, and for the saint, which in time past hath been quickened, to keep alive. Christ himself is the resurrection and the life of both. And it is by his Holy Word, and by his Holy Spirit, the souls of the redeemed are spiritually fed and nourished, day by day. “Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4). The Lord grant, if it be his holy will, that the precious doctrine of the resurrection may this day be realized, and become a living principle in the souls of many; that all the persons in the Godhead being here to confirm the Lord’s word; what Jesus hath said may be fulfilled to our joy and his glory: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out: for I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day,” (John 6:37-39).
I begin as I proposed, namely, in calling your attention to the contemplation of the Almighty Speaker, who proclaims himself and his divine person under those sublime characters, “the resurrection and the life.”
I shall not, upon the present occasion, think it necessary to dwell upon that part of the subject which connects in one and the same view, the whole three persons in the Godhead; for, more or less, you know that these glorious fundamental truths of our most holy faith form a part of every sermon I preach to you. And indeed I should consider myself miserably deficient, whenever these leading points of all pure doctrine were overlooked or omitted. For while it is this holy One, the Lord our righteousness, who is the executor and administrator of the whole purposes, counsel, will, and pleasure of Jehovah, in his trinity of persons towards the church; it is the delight of the church to know, and what opens a continual source of thanksgiving from the church to each and to all to enjoy; that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost take equal part, and are equally included in this gracious administration.
What I have to call to your attention at this time, is, the personal glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, as “the resurrection and the life.” In which is included the personal dignity of our Lord. He was, and is one of the Holy Three which bear record in heaven, (1 John 5:7). Hence he possessed in himself, and underived from another, all divine attributes and perfections; and though distinct in person from the Father and the Holy Ghost, yet in common with the Father and the Holy Ghost, being substantially one, in all that constitutes the Godhead. Keeping this apprehension of our most glorious Christ in view, as we prosecute the subject, we shall discover, (if under divine teaching,) as we go along, how competent and suited our most glorious Christ is, to make proclamation of himself in this exalted manner.
I am—the Lord saith: by which is expressed his everlasting being, his eternity, and sameness of nature and essence, possessing in himself at one and the same time, (call that time by whatsoever name you may,) past, present, and future. As if the Lord had said, I am, what I am now; and I am, what I have always been; and I am, what I shall always be; yesterday, before all worlds; today, during the whole time-state of all worlds; and forever, when there are no worlds. There is a similar passage which we meet with in the inspired writings of the prophet. “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy,” (Isa. 57:15). These words are expressive of the infinity of Jehovah, and are equally applicable to each and to all the persons in the Godhead. And the inhabitation of eternity is a phrase peculiarly descriptive of the divine essence, as distinguished from all creatures. It doth not simply mean dwelling but inhabiting eternity; that is, being eternity in himself: and the application of it to our most glorious Christ is very fully proclaimed in that Scripture where he is called, “the strength of Israel,” (1 Sam. 15:29), or as the word is rendered in the margin of the Bible, “the eternity, or victory of Israel;” in allusion to his victory over death, hell, and the grave: all which are included in the comprehension of the words of the text: “the resurrection and the life,”
And from the first dawn of revelation in the several manifestations the Lord was pleased to make of himself; he assumed to himself the same distinction of character: thus to Abram, (Gen. 15:1) “Fear not Abram, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” I am all these; I myself am: not in gifts, not in graces] but personally so. In like manner to the same Abraham in the mount: “By myself have I sworn saith the Lord.” Himself the swearer; and to himself the oath. Compare Genesis 22:15,&c. all which tend to confirm the infinite greatness of him who styles himself, I am. And if we pass on from Abraham to the days of Moses, we find the same ascription of character which the Lord there made to himself at the bush; “I am that I am,” (Ex. 3:14). Here, as in the text, the Lord grounds all that he promiseth on the eternity of his nature. And it is somewhat remarkable in the Lord’s adding to the glorious name, I am, “that I am;” as if in allusion to the fullness of time, when he would openly tabernacle among us; concerning which the angel to Mary named him, That Holy Thing, (Luke 1:35). And his servant John so named him, “That,” (1 John 1:1).
I will beg to make a short observation on this first branch of the discourse before I go on to the second: which is to say, what a firmness of assurance such views give to our faith, in that, He that thus speaks, and promiseth such blessed things to his people, confirms the certainty of them by such testimonies of his own Almighty power to accomplish them. We have another delightful Scripture to the same purport, in one of the prophets. “Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God,” (Isa. 41:6). It is easy to conceive how the Lord may be said to be the first; for the Lord had being in himself before all worlds. But how the Lord may be said to be the last; when the Church hath eternal life given to her in Christ; and (as he saith himself) “because I live, ye shall live also:” (John 14:19), will not that eternal life be commensurate to eternity? But here is the blessedness of the expression. He is both the first, and the last, by his inhabitation of eternity, which is (as I before observed), a similar phrase for Himself. Hence therefore our eternal life derived from Him, and being in Him, proves Him to be both the first, and the last; for he claspeth in his Almighty arms, (if the expression be warrantable), eternity with all its appendages; and thus the whole church is folded within his embraces; and, consequently, he is both first and last.
I proceed now, as was proposed, to the second branch of our subject, namely, to look into the divine operations of this high character of our Lord, whether we know him in the same, as our resurrection, and life; in that we ourselves are the subjects and objects of this great privilege.
In the prosecution of this part of our subject I desire you to notice the occasion upon which the Lord so graciously expressed himself. It appears that upon the death of Lazarus (as the history records) Martha, the sorrowful sister of Lazarus, seeing Jesus, said unto him “Lord! if thou hadst been here my brother had not died. But I know that even now whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” Upon which, the Lord Jesus said; “Thy brother shall rise again.” Yes! said Martha, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” It should seem, that Martha had a notion in common with others at that time of what was supposed, but not openly revealed, of a resurrection: but not the most distant idea how this resurrection was to be accomplished; much less that the Lord Jesus was himself the sole cause of that glorious event, and indeed himself the resurrection. Jesus then made that blessed proclamation of himself in the text, and said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
Now in order that we may enter into the clear, spiritual, and scriptural sense of this most precious doctrine, under the divine teaching; and having, (as I hope) laid down the sure foundation for the cordial belief of the same under the former branch of discourse; by showing Christ’s eternal power and Godhead, and from the same authority; we shall now at once discover how truly our most glorious Christ is himself “the resurrection and the life,” both in himself, and to all his people; by calling to our mind, what the Scriptures declare, and what his people are supposed to know; namely, that in all He said; in all He did; in all He wrought; in all He suffered; yea, in all that He was as Christ; He was, and is, the Head, and Husband, and Surety, of his body the church, “the fulness that filleth all in all.” Hence, when he stood forth under this high character, he stood forth not as a private person, but a public head; and when the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all, (as it, is said he did, Isa. 53:6), in the same moment, all our sins were taken from us, and charged on him, (Jer. 50:20). When he died on the cross, the church died in him, (Gal. 2:20). When “he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;” from the church sin was forever put away; and the church “sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Heb: 9:26; 10:10). And when he arose from the dead, the church rose in Him as their glorious Head, and Representative: and as the Holy Ghost hath graciously taught the church by Paul, Christ “being risen from the dead; is become the first fruits of them that slept,” (1 Cor. 15:20). Hence he is the sure pledge, and earnest, of the resurrection of all his people; yea, he is himself the resurrection; neither would his resurrection be complete without theirs; for where should the members be but with their head? Nay, the church is not, only one with Christ, in his resurrection, but in his ascension, and return to glory. For saith the Holy Ghost by Paul, to every regenerated child of God, when quickened into a new and spiritual life in Christ; “Even. (saith he) when we were dead in sins we” were quickened together with Christ: (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 2:5-6). So that the regenerated church, to all intents and purposes is now in the person of her glorious Lord sitting with Him; represented by Him; and He is therefore himself, the sum and substance of all that she is, or ever will be. Oh! divine saying of our most glorious Lord, when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life!”
From this statement, the personal interest of every individual member of Christ’s mystical body may, through the unction of the Holy Ghost, (1 John 2:20), be clearly ascertained. Are we regenerated or born again; and have we those marks of the new and spiritual life which follow the new-birth? Are we “convinced of sin, of righteousness and of judgment?” (John 16:8-11). Are we dead with Christ, risen with Christ by the resurrection of grace, to a new, and spiritual life in Christ; and are we seeking, those things which are above where Christ sitteth, on the right hand of God?” (Col. 3:1-4). The Holy Ghost, by Paul, hath stated these divine truths, as so many testimonies in the mind of the risen with Christ, when he saith: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ; (that not the outward baptism of water, but inward by the Spirit:” see Acts 10:5), “were baptized into his death: therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up front the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together, in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection,” (Rom. 6:3-5). Such, and infinitely more, is included in those divine words, of our most glorious Lord, when he said: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
It now only remains for every one present to put the question to himself, which our Lord did to Martha, as if the glorious Lord had made a renewed proclamation of the same this day in this church, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die! Believest thou this?” Do you, and you, and you, believe it? Oh! Sirs! the doctrine of the resurrection is a practical, experimental, soul-refreshing doctrine, and when, by the unction of the Lord, received into the spiritual mind, and understanding, and conscience, and lived upon by faith, cannot but tend to purify the heart, and induce an holy life “and conversation: “that when Christ who is our life shall appear, we shall appear with him in glory!”
And now having been strengthened to deliver my message to you from the Lord; I look to the Lord for his blessing upon it. I am come forth from the chamber of the dead, to say these things unto the living; and shall now return to my house of mourning with thanksgiving in having been permitted, for this purpose, to visit the Lord’s house of joy. If you do not recollect a word of what I have said; but yet shall be enabled to keep in memory what the Lord hath said, in the delightful words of the text; and the Lord should write them in your hearts; this is the burden of my prayer for you, and for myself. In them you will find a sure relief against all the sorrows of life; under bereaving providences in the death of friends; and in the prospect of your own departure; if the Lord be loosening the pins of your earthly tabernacle; if all outward circumstances are dark, and discouraging; and all inward comforts in yourself run low; let but Jesus whisper his own most blessed words to the ear of your spiritual apprehension, and all will be well. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”