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THE MORAL OF THE EMPTY GRAVE
Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, which hath been crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, even as He said.-Matt. xxviii. 5, 6.
DISTINGUISHED representative of science
recently exhorted the religious world to rest
its doctrines and hopes on the facts of nature and consciousness, and not on "an empty grave.” But surely the facts of history also furnish a valid source of illumination and a secure basis of faith, and especially when such facts interpret the facts of nature and consciousness. The empty grave of our Lord is the best attested fact of antiquity, and is to the whole race of immense significance. What it meant to the first generation of Christians is readily seen in the Epistles of the New Testament. St. Paul makes very clear what he thought of our Lord's resurrection; he is content to rest the whole vast superstructure of the new faith on that empty grave. “For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain: ye are yet in your sins."
If we desire to learn what the immediately following generations of Christians thought of the fact and promise of our Lord's resurrection, the catacombs will teach us. There pathetic testimonies abound to the consolatory truth that after the great Shepherd of the sheep had tasted the sharpness of death He rose from the grave and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The glorious army of martyrs felt the power of Christ's resurrection, and found in it the secret of their triumph. Through the Christian centuries that empty grave has been the window into heaven. And if any one would understand what the resurrection of our Lord means to-day to the great host of dying men, let him visit the cemetery, and thousands of epitaphs testify that the sleepers sleep in peace because that empty grave throws the sweet light of hope on their resting-place. The hope of immortality is an instinct of the race; it is the vivifier of life; it reconciles us to the dust and ashes which end all human glory; and its supreme proof and symbol is the empty grave of Jesus Christ.
We speak of "empty space,” and perhaps think lightly of it; we can respect space occupied by sun, moon, or star, but to speak of empty space seems like speaking of nothing, the absolute negation. The man of science, however, does not think thus. He knows that empty space is full of essential substance, of primal forces, of atmospheres and ethers without which there could not be life and light, music and beauty, and the ten thousand ornaments and delights of our planet. The earth with all its opulence and splendour arose out of empty space; it was not made of things which do appear. Beware when you speak of empty space! Empty space is crammed with reality. It is much the same when one speaks lightly of the "empty grave" of our Lord: it is charged with vital elements, sovereign forces, glorious possibilities. History shows that all down the ages it has been the primal source of power, purity, consolation, and blessedness. Because our Lord's grave is empty, therefore is it the fountain of eternal energy and victory. As this round globe and all that it inherits arose out of empty space, so has Christendom arisen out of the empty grave of our Lord.
What, then, is the immortality that on this day our Lord brought to light?
It is personal. Philosophers and poets of a certain school think to satisfy our craving for immortality by assuring us that in death we shall melt into "the infinite azure," and live henceforth in the life of nature. Delivered from the crippling limitations of mortality we shall be transfused into the rainbow, share the pulsations of the sea, mingle with the fragrance of flowers, glow in the light of setting suns, sparkle in the stars. How eloquently Shelley dilates on the pantheistic creed! But the empty grave of our Lord reminds us that in perfected personality we enter upon our great inheritance. There is no scattering of the soul in the air, no melting in the infinite azure, but as a being with consciousness, knowledge, will, and affection, do I live beyond and live for ever. Christ came into the world to assure us of the fact and inviolability of personality as standing out from the universe; and His empty grave is the sign that upon our personality death has no power, but in the distinction and fullness of our faculty do we enter into glory.
It is individual. It is not the immortality of patriotism. The hope of living in the future of one's nation is not the Christian hope. The Old Testament furnishes little direct and explicit teaching on immortality, as we conceive it. Then the individual largely forgot himself in the collective unity of his people; when the Hebrew thought of his great future, he recognized himself in the collective unity of his people; when the Hebrew thought of his great future, he recognized himself in the persistence of Israel. Very similarly the Greek and Roman speculated on the future; their aspiration for immortality was satisfied as they felt themselves identified with the splendour and permanence of their nation. This is not, however, the immortality pledged in the resurrection of Christ.
Nor is the Christian immortality that of positivism. Transcending the ideal of national futurity, positivism strives to satisfy us with the hope that we shall survive in the life of humanity. Corporate immortality involves a great truth which the sacred writers recognized long before Comte, but it does not supersede the fact and glory of that individual immortality which Easter Day pledges. Just as the modern telescope tends to break up the Milky Way, and to resolve its undistinguished light into individual orbs; so Christianity defines the vague splendour of nationality and humanity, showing that the humblest soul is like a star and dwells apart.
It is moral. Some have been tempted to think that immortality is bound up with intellectual power and merit, but the whole significance of the resurrection of our Lord is moral. If we are to share in the glory of His ascended life, we must know the power of our Lord's resurrection raising us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. In the New Testament immortality is never treated as a philosophical question, but always as a moral one. Moral resurrection is the condition of everlasting life and blessedness. The spirit of holiness is the secret of glorious resurrection. If we are one day with joy to survey our empty tomb, it will be because He who is the resurrection and the life first brought our soul into the liberty of the glory of His dear children. “Then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”