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The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

LECTURE XXV. EASTER DAY.

EASTER DAY.

* * * * *

JOHN xx.20.

Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

With this verse ends the portion of the scripture chosen for the gospel in this morning's service. It finishes the account of the visit of Peter and John to the sepulchre; and, therefore, the close of the extract at this point is sufficiently natural. Yet the effect of the quiet tone of these words, just following the account of the greatest event which earth has ever witnessed, is, I think, singularly impressive; the more so when we remember that they were written by one of the very persons, whose visit had been just described; and that the writer, therefore, could tell full well, to how intense an interest there had succeeded that solemn calm. They went away from the very sight, if I may so speak, of Christ risen, to their own homes. And what thoughts do we suppose that they carried with them? Let us endeavour to recall them, for our benefit, also, who, like them, are going, as it were, to the ordinary tenure of our daily lives from this day's high solemnity.

The disciples went away to their own homes; and there they waited, either in Jerusalem or in Galilee, pursuing, as we find from the last chapter of St. John, their common occupations, till, after their Lord's ascension, power was given them from on high, and the great work of their apostleship began. During this period, Christ appeared to them several times: he conversed with them, he ate and drank with them: but he did not live continually with them, as he had done before his crucifixion: he did not take them about with him as before, while he was performing the part of the great prophet of the house of Israel. They were now at their own homes waiting for his call to more active duties. They had seen him dead, and they had seen, him risen, and they were receiving into their souls all the lessons of his life and death and resurrection, brought before them, and impressed upon them by that Holy Spirit, who, according to Christ's promise, was to take of the things which are Christ's, and to show them to Christ's disciples.

It is true that there came upon them, after this, an especial visitation of the Spirit of power, to fit them for their particular work of apostles or messengers to mankind. Having been converted themselves, they were to strengthen their brethren. And as this especial visitation of the Holy Spirit was given to them only, and to those on whom they themselves laid their hands, so none have ever since been called to that particular work to which they were called, in any thing of the same degree of fulness. What is peculiar to them as apostles is not applicable exactly to us; but we are all concerned in what belongs to them as Christians: in this respect, their case is ours; and they, when at their own homes, and engaged in their own callings, stand in the same situation as we all.

We may, however, still make a two-fold division; we may regard the apostles going away to their own homes, as a temporary thing, as a mere term of preparation for the duties which they were afterwards called to; or we may look upon it as complete so far as earth is concerned, since, taking them as Christians only and not as apostles, they might have so lived on to the end of their lives, having received all those helps which were needed for their own personal salvation, and having only to use them daily for their soul's benefit. This same distinction we may apply to ourselves. We may consider ourselves as going to our own homes for a time only, awaiting our call to active life; or we may consider ourselves as withdrawing, after every celebration of Christ's resurrection, to that round of daily duties which on earth shall never alter; and to which all the helps derived from our communion with Christ are to be applied, with nothing future, so for as earth is concerned, for which we may need them. So then, of whatever age we may be, what is said of the apostles in the text may apply to us also: after having witnessed, as it were, Christ's resurrection, we go away to our own homes. Let us first take that part of the text which is common to us all, though not in the same degree -- the having been witnesses of Christ's resurrection. John and Peter found him not in the sepulchre; they found the linen clothes and the napkin lying there, but he was gone. And upon this, as John assures us, both for himself and his companion, |they believed.| They believed, we should observe, when as yet they had no more seen Jesus himself after his resurrection, than we Lave now. They only knew that he had been dead, and that he was not in the sepulchre. And this we know also; we have not seen him, indeed, since his resurrection: but we are sure he is not in the sepulchre. We are sure that the malice of his enemies did not do its work: we are sure, for we are ourselves witnesses of it, that that name, and that word, which they hoped would have been destroyed for ever, like the names of many, not only of false prophets and deceivers, but even of good men and of wise, have not perished, but have brought forth fruit more abundantly, from the very cause that was intended to put them out. Christ's gospel, assuredly, is a living thing, full of vigour and full of power; it has worked mightily for good, and is working; it is so full of blessing, it tends so largely towards the happiness that is enjoyed upon earth, that we are quite sure it is not lying still buried in Christ's sepulchre.

They (the two disciples) then went away believing, because they found that he was not in the sepulchre. But Mary Magdalene came and told them, that she had seen him risen, and had heard his voice with her ears. What she told Peter and John, Peter and John are now telling to us. They tell us that they have heard him, have seen him with their eyes, have looked upon him, yea, that their hands have handled him. They tell us even more than Mary Magdalene told them; for she had not been allowed to touch him. We may well trust their testimony, as they trusted hers, being quite ready indeed to believe that he was alive, because they had found that he was not amongst the dead. And so we, finding that he is not amongst the dead, seeing and knowing the fruits of his gospel, the living and ever increasing fruits of it, may well believe that its author is risen, and that the pains of death were loosed from off him, because it was not possible that he should be holden by them.

In this way, we, like the two disciples, may be all said to be witnesses of Christ's resurrection. May it not be said still more of those amongst us who assembled this morning round Christ's table, to keep alive the memory of his death; when we partook of that bread, and drank of that cup, of which so many thousands and millions, in every age and in every land, have eaten and drunken, all receiving them, with nearly the same words, -- the body that was given for us, the blood that was shed for us, -- all, making allowances for human weakness, finding in that communion the peace and the strength of God; all alike receiving it with penitent hearts, and with faith, and purposes of good for the time to come? Did we not then witness that Christ is not perished? that he has been ever, and still is, mighty to save? That command given to twelve persons, in an obscure chamber in Jerusalem, by one who, the next day, was to die as a malefactor, has been, and is obeyed from one end of the world to another; and wherever it has been obeyed, there, in proportion to the sincerity of the obedience, has been the fulness of the blessing.

But this is now past, as with the two disciples, and we are going again to our own homes. There, neither the empty sepulchre nor the risen Saviour are present before us, but common scenes and familiar occupations, which, in themselves have nothing in them of Christ. So it must be; we cannot be always within these walls; we cannot always be engaged in public prayer; we cannot always be hearing Christ's word, nor partaking of his communion; we must be going about our several works, and must be busied in them; some of us in preparation for other work to come, others to go on till the end of their lives with this only. May we not hope that Christ, and Christ's Spirit, will visit us the while in these our daily callings, as he came to his disciples Peter and John, when following their business as fishers on the lake of Gennesareth?

How can we get him to visit us? There is one answer -- by prayer and by watchfulness. By prayer, whether we are in our preparatory state, or our fixed one; by prayer, and I think I may add, by praying in our own words. Of course, when we pray together, some of us must join in the words of others; and it makes little difference, whether those words be spoken or read. But when we pray alone, some, perhaps, may still use none but prayers made by others, especially the Lord's prayer. We should remember, however, that the Lord's prayer was given for this very purpose, to teach us how to pray for ourselves. But it does not do this, if we use it alone, and still more, if we use it without understanding it. If we do understand it, and study it, it will indeed teach us to pray; it will show us what we most need in prayer, and what are our greatest evils; but surely it may be said, that no man ever learnt this lesson well without wishing to practise it; no man ever used the Lord's prayer with understanding and with earnestness, without adding to it others of his own. And this is not a trifling matter. We know the difficulty of attending in prayer; and if we use the words of others only, which we must, therefore, repeat from memory, it is perfectly possible to say them over without really joining with them in our minds: we may say them over to ourselves, and be actually thinking of other things the while. And the same thing holds good, of course, even with prayers that we have made ourselves, if we accustom ourselves to repeat them without alteration; they then become, in fact, the work of another than our actual mind, and may be repeated by memory alone. Therefore, it seems to be of consequence to vary the words, and even the matter of our private prayers, that so we may not deceive ourselves, by repeating merely, when we fancy that we are praying. Ten words actually made by ourselves at the moment, and not remembered, are a real prayer; for it is not hypocrisy that is the most common danger; our temper, when we are on our knees, is apt indeed to be careless, but not, I hope and believe, deceitful. This, of course, must be well known to a very large proportion of us; but, perhaps, there are some to whom it may be useful; some to whom the advice may not yet have suggested itself, that they should make their own prayers, in part, at least, whenever they kneel down to their private devotions.

And this sort of prayer, with God's blessing, is likely to make us watchful. We rise in the morning: we say some prayers of our own; we hear others read to us; and yet it is possible that we may not have really prayed ourselves in either case; we may not have brought ourselves truly into the presence of God. Hence our true condition, with all its dangers, has not been brought before our minds; the need of watchfulness has not been shown to us. But with real prayer of our own hearts' making it is different; God is then present to us, and sin and righteousness: our dream of carelessness is, for a moment at least, broken. No doubt it is but too easy to dream again; yet still an opportunity of exerting ourselves to keep awake is given us; we are roused to consciousness of our situation; and that, at any rate, renders exertion possible. There is no doubt that souls are most commonly lost by this continued dreaming, till at length, when seemingly awake (they are not so really), they are like men who answer to the call that would arouse them, but they answer, in fact, unconsciously. We cannot tell for ourselves or others any way by which our souls shall certainly be saved, in spite of carelessness; or any way by which, carelessness shall be overcome necessarily; all that can be done is, to point out how it may be overcome, by what means the soul may be helped in its endeavours; not how those endeavours and holy desires may be rendered needless.

Thus, then, we may gain Christ to visit us at our own homes and in our common callings, when we are returned to them. And that difference which I spoke of as existing between us, that some of us are waiting for Christ's call to a higher field of action, while others are engaged in that sort of duty which will last their lives, I know not that this -- though it be often important, and though I am often obliged to dwell on it -- need enter into our considerations to-day. Rather, perhaps, may we overlook this difference, and feel that all of us here assembled -- those in their state of earliest preparation for after duties; those to whom that earliest state is passed away, and who are entered into another state, in part preparatory, in part partaking of the character of actual life; and those also whose preparation, speaking of earth, only, is completed altogether, who must be doing, and whose time even of doing is far advanced -- that all of us have in truth one great call yet before us: and that, with respect to that, we are all, as it were, preparing still. And for that great call, common to all of us, we need all the same common readiness; and that readiness will be effected in us only by the same means, -- if now, before it come, Christ and Christ's Spirit shall, in our homes and daily callings, be persuaded to visit us.

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