XIII. RESURRECTION LIFE AND DAILY DYING.
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed to His death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." — Phil. iii. 10, 11.
We have still other aspects to consider of that "gain" which the Apostle descried in Christ, for the sake of which he had cast so much away.
To prize the righteousness of faith was an element in the true knowledge of Christ; but it was so far from exhausting that knowledge, that it only opened a door of progress, and brought near the most stirring possibilities. For, indeed, to be found in Christ having that righteousness meant that God in Christ was his, and had begun to communicate Himself in eternal life. Now this must still reveal itself in further and fuller knowledge of Christ. According to the Apostle's conception, that which Christ means to be to us, that which we may attain to be by Christ, opens progressively to the soul that has been won to this pursuit; it comes into view and into experience in a certain growing knowledge. It is a practical historical career; and the Apostle was set on achieving it, not by strength or wisdom of his own, but by the continual communication of grace, responding to desire and prayer and endeavour.
We must not forget, what has more than once been said, that this earthly life of ours is the scene in which the discipline goes on, in which the career is achieved. It is the calling here and now, not at some other stage of being, that the Apostle is thinking of for himself and for his disciples. And as earthly life is the scene, so earthly life also furnishes the occasions and opportunities by which the knowledge of Christ is to advance. Any other way of it is for us inconceivable. This life in all the various forms which it assumes for different men, in all the changing experiences which it brings to each of us — life on the earth we know so well — with its joy and sorrow, its labour and rest, its gifts and its bereavements, its friends and foes, its times and places, its exercise and interest for body and mind, for intellect and heart and conscience, with its temptations and its better influences, — life must furnish the opportunities for acquiring this practical knowledge of Christ. For that which falls to us, if we are in Christ, is a certain blessed well-being (itself an unfolding of Christ's wisdom and grace). And this must impart itself, and reveal itself, in our actual experience, but in an experience which we pass through under the guidance of Christ.
This familiar life, then, is the scene; it alone can furnish the opportunities. And yet what the Apostle apprehends, as coming into possession and experience, is a life of a higher style, a life set on a nobler key: it is a life that has its centre and source and true type elsewhere; it belongs to a higher region; indeed, it is a life whose perfect play pertains to another, coming world. Capacity for such a life is not something superhuman; it is congenital to man, made in the image of God. And yet, if these capacities unfold, man's life must, in the end, become other than we know it now; with a new proportioning of elements, with a new order of experience, with new harmonies, with aptitudes for love and service and worship that are beyond us now. Only now, they begin and grow; they are now to be aimed at, and realised in earnest and firstfruit, and embraced in hope. For they are elements in the knowledge of Christ, who is ours to know.
This is indicated in the Apostle's aspiration after knowing Christ in the power of His resurrection, and his yearning if by any means he might attain to the resurrection of the dead.
The resurrection of Christ marked the acceptance of His work by the Father, and revealed the triumph in which that work ended. Death and all the power of the enemy were overcome, and victory was attained. For one thing, the resurrection of Christ made sure the righteousness of faith. He rose again for our justification. So every passage of the Apostle's life which proved that his confidence in that respect was not vain, that God in Christ was truly his God, was an experience of the power of Christ's resurrection. But the resurrection of Christ was also His emergence — His due emergence — into the power and blessedness of victorious life. In the Person of Christ life in God, and to God, had descended into the hard conditions set for Him who would associate a world of sinners to Himself. In the resurrection the triumph of that enterprise came to light. Now, done with sin, and free from death, and asserting His superiority to all humiliation and all conflict, He rose in the fulness of a power which He was entitled also to communicate. He rose, with full right and power to save. And so His resurrection denotes Christ as able to inspire life, and to make it victorious in His members.
When, then, Paul says that he would know Christ in the power of His resurrection, he aims at a life (already his, but capable of far more adequate development) conformed to the life which triumphed in the risen Christ, one with that in principle, in character, and in destiny. This was, in the meantime, to be human life on the earth, with the known elements and conditions of that life; including, in Paul's case, some that were hard enough. But it was to be transformed from within, inspired with a new meaning and aim. It was to have its elements polarised anew, organised by new forces and in a new rhythm. It was, and was to be, pervaded by peace with God, by the consciousness of redemption, by dedication to service. It was to include a recoil from evil, and a sympathy with goodness, — elements these which might be so far thought of as a reverting to the unfallen state. But it had more in it, because it was based on redemption, and rooted in Christ who died and rose again. It was baptised with the passion of gratitude; it was drawn into the effort to build up the Redeemer's kingdom; and it aimed at a better country.
So while the life we know so well was the sphere in which this experience fulfilled itself, the longings it included pointed to an existence higher up and further on — to an existence only to be reached by resurrection from the dead, an existence certainly promised to be so reached. All the effort and the longing pointed to that door of hope; Paul was reaching on to the resurrection of the dead. For that blessed resurrection would consummate and fulfil the likeness to Christ and the fellowship with Him, and would usher into a manner of being where the experience of both should be unimpeded. The life of "knowing Christ" could not be contented here, could not rest satisfied short of that consummation. For indeed to be with Christ and to labour for Christ here on earth was good; yet so that to depart and be with Christ was far better.
We have here to do with the active and victorious aspect of Christian life, the energy in it that makes it new and great. It holds by a title and it draws from a source which must be looked for, both of them, high up in heaven. Something in it has already triumphed over death.
It may be felt, however, that there is some danger here lest the great words of Paul may carry us off our feet, and divorce us from terra firma altogether. Some one may ask, But what does all this mean in practice? What sort of life is it to be? Apostles can soar, perhaps; but how about the man in the workshop or in the counting-house, or the woman busied in family cares? A life in "the power of a resurrection" seems to be something that transcends earthly conditions altogether. These are perfectly fair questions, and one should try to meet them with a plain reply.
The life in view is first of all goodness in its ordinary sense, or what we call common morality — common honesty, common truthfulness, common kindness. "Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour"; "Not slothful in business"; "Lie not one to another, seeing you have put off the old man with his deeds." But then this common morality begins to have an uncommon heart or spirit in it, by reason of Christ. So a new love for goodness and a new energy of rejection of evil begin to work; also, a new sensitiveness to discern good, where its obligation was not felt before, and to be aware of evil which, before, was tolerated. Moreover, in the heart of this "common morality" the man carries about a consciousness of his own relation to God, and also of the relation to God of all with whom he meets. This consciousness is very imperfect, sometimes perhaps almost vanishes. Yet the man is aware that an immense truth is here close to him, and he has begun to be alive to it. This consciousness tends to give a new value to all the "moralities": it awakens a new percipiency as to good and evil; in particular, the great duty of purity in relation to the man himself, and to others, acquires a new sacredness. The place and claims of self also begin to be judged by a quite new standard. In all directions possibilities of good and evil in human life are descried; and the obligation to refuse the evil and to choose the good presses with a new force. So far, the remark made a little ago is justified, that the Christian life of Paul was a life that had begun to point practically towards sinlessness, towards what we call an unfallen state; however far off it might be, as yet, from that attainment. But this would be a very limited account of the matter. The whole region of duty and privilege Godwards is lighted up now by the faith of redemption in Christ; that not only awakens gratitude, but inspires a new passion of desire and hope into all moral effort. And the man, being now aware of a kingdom of goodness set up by Christ, which is making its way to victory against all the power of evil, and being aware of the agencies by which it works, must give himself in his own place to the service of that kingdom, that he may not hurt but help the cause which it embodies. The new life is therefore to be an energetic life of the plainest goodness. Only faith places it in relation to the world of faith, and inspires it with the passion of love and gratitude, and amplifies it by the new horizons that fall back on all sides, and gives it a goal in the hope of life eternal.
Returning to the instance of the Apostle Paul, one observes from his account of it that the regard of the believer to Christ, such regard as may actually be attained and operative in this life, ought to fructify into desires and prayers that point beyond this life, and reach out to the resurrection of the dead. There is a contentedness with life here that is not Christian. It would agree well with a thankful use of earthly comforts, and a cheerful serenity amid earth's changes, that we should feel our home and our treasure to be in another place, and the enjoyment of them to lie in a coming world. Not otherwise shall we know how to make a right Christian use and have a right Christian enjoyment of this life. We are not prepared to get the full good of this world until we are ready and willing to go out of it.
Let it be observed, also, how the Apostle strove to "attain" the resurrection of the dead. The great things of the Kingdom of God are exhibited in various connections, none of which are to be overlooked. One of these connections is here exhibited.
We know that in Scripture a distinction is made between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked. A solemn obscurity rests on the manner and the principles of the latter, the resurrection to shame. But the resurrection of the just takes place in virtue of their union to Christ; it is after the example of His resurrection; it is to glory and honour. Now this resurrection, while it is most obviously a crowning blessing and benefaction coming from God, is represented also as having the character of an attainment made by us. The faith in which we turn to God is the beginning of a course leading to the "end of our faith, the salvation of our souls." This end coincides with the resurrection. Then the hour comes which completes, then the state arrives in which is completed, the redemption of the man. The resurrection rises before us, therefore, as something which, while on the one hand promised and given by God, is, on the other hand, "attained" by us. Our Lord (Luke xx. 35) speaks of those who shall be "counted worthy to attain that world, and the resurrection of the dead."
The resurrection is promised to believers. It is promised to arise to them in sequel to a certain course — a history of redemption, made good in their lives. How shall the disciple verify his expectation of this final benefit? Not surely without verifying the intermediate history. The way must point towards the end — at least, must point towards it. A resurrection state, if it be like Christ's, how much must it include! What purity, what high aptitudes, what delicate congenialities! The desires of the true Christian life, its aspirations and efforts, as well as the promises which animate and the influences which sustain it, all point in this direction. But how if in any case this prove unreal, deceptive; how if it be ostensible only? How if no real changes take place, or if they die out again? What if soul and body rise unchanged, the soul polluted, and so the very body bearing the stamp of old sins? What if the murderous eye of hate, or the lurid eye of lust, shall look into the eyes of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire? Accordingly this connection of things is impressed upon us by our Apostle (Rom. viii. 11): "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body by His Spirit which dwells in you." While we live here, our body, however disciplined, must still be the body of our humiliation (ver. 21); and sin continues to beset even renewed souls. But if the Spirit of grace is even now bringing all into subjection to the obedience of Christ, enabling us to die to sin and to live to righteousness, that points forward to the completion of the work, in the resurrection to glory.
This, then, is one view in which the Apostle realises the solemnity and interest of Christian life. It is the way that leads up to such a resurrection. The resurrection rises before him as the consummate triumph of that life for which he came to Christ, the life which he longs perfectly to possess, perfectly to know. The success of his great venture is to meet Him in the rising from the dead; his course, meanwhile, is a striving onwards to it. How was it to be reached? In order to that, much must still be brought into experience of the resurrection power of Christ. Only in that strength did Paul look to be carried to the point at which, ending his course, he should lie down (if he died before Christ come) in the blessed hope of the rising from the dead. For this he looked to Christ to work mightily in him; for this he owned himself bound, under the grace of Christ, to strive mightily, if "by any means" he might attain to it. So great is this consummation; so great are those things which fitly lead up to it. Is it not a great view of Christian religion that it sends men onward in a life in which they "attain" to the resurrection of the dead? Must not that be a great history of which this is the appropriate close?
Paul, then, was eager to go forward in a life intense and mighty, drawing on a great power to sustain it, and rising into splendid effects and results. But yet, in respect of some of its aspects, it rather seemed to the Apostle to be a certain deliberate and blessed dying. At least, the life must fulfil and realise itself along such a dying; and this also, this emphatically, he pressed on to know — "the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death."
Our Lord's life on earth, strong and beautiful though it was, was really at the same time His procedure towards death. He lived as one laying down His life, not merely in one great sacrifice at the close, but from step to step along His whole earthly history. With no touch of the morbid or the fanatical, yet His course, in practice, had to be one of self-impoverishment, of loneliness, of acquaintance with energetic hostility of sin and sinners. It had to be so if it was to be faithful. He knew not where to lay His head; He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself; He came to His own, and His own received Him not. Even His friends, whom He so loved, and who loved Him in their imperfect way, did not love Him wisely or magnanimously, and constantly became occasions of temptation which had to be resisted. Pain and trial were the inevitable characters of the work given Him to do. It lay in His calling to put a strong and faithful negative on the natural desire for safety, for happiness, for congenial society and surroundings, for free and unembarrassed life. All this He had steadily to postpone to a period beyond the grave, and meanwhile make His way to the final crisis, at which, under a mysterious burden of extreme sorrow, accepted as the Saviour's proper portion, He died for our sins. By this sacrifice He did, no doubt, relieve His followers of a burden which they never could have borne. But yet in doing so He made it possible for them to enter, happily and hopefully, on a life so far like His own. Their life, too, comes to be governed by a decision, maintained and persisted in, for God's will, and against the impulse, in their case the impure and treacherous impulse, of their own will. They also, in their turn, but under His influence and with His loving succour, have so to live as in that life to die. They learn to say "No" for their Master's sake to many objects which strongly appeal to them. They consent to postpone the period of perfectly harmonious life, free and unimpeded, to the time which lies beyond death. They must count their true life to be that which, perfectly conformed to and associated with their Master's life, they shall live in another scene of things. Meanwhile, as to the elements of this world, the life which stands in these must die, or they must die to it, growing into the mind of their Lord.
It is difficult to speak of this without, on the one hand, conveying a strained and unreal view of the Christian's attitude towards the present life, or, on the other hand, weakening too much the sense of "conformity to His death." In the first place, the Christian's dying is mainly, and certainly it is first of all, a dying to sin, a mortifying the flesh with the affections and lusts. It is the practical renunciation of evil, along with the maintenance of the watchfulness and self-discipline needed in order to be ready to renounce evil when it comes. Evil has to be rejected, not merely by itself, but at the cost of those earthly interests which are involved in the surrender to it, however dear or constraining those interests may seem to be; so that conformity to Christ's death, if it covered no more, would still cover a great deal of ground. But it seems to cover something more — namely, a general loosening of the grasp upon this life, or on the temporary and sensible elements of it, in view of the worth and certainty of the higher and the better life. This life, indeed, as long as we are in it, can never lose its claims upon us, as the sphere of our duty, and the scene of our training. Here we have our place to fill, our relations to sustain, our part to play, our ministries to perform. In all these ways of it we have some good to do, of lower or loftier kinds; in all, we have many lessons to learn, which crowd upon us to the last; through all, we have to carry the faith of the unseen Kingdom and the unseen Lord; and in all these aspects of earthly life, if God gives us any cheering experience of earthly brightness, surely it is to be taken most thankfully. It is a poor way of construing the conformity to Christ's death, to renounce interest in the life of which we are a part, and the world which is the scene of it. But the interest should fasten more intently on the things which interest our Lord, and eagerness of spirit about earthly good for ourselves must give place and subside.
And yet, when one thinks of the beauty and sweetness of much that pertains to our earthly existence, and of the goodness of God in material or temporal gifts, and of the thankfulness with which Christian hearts are to take these when they are given, and are to walk with God in the use of them, one feels the risk of involving oneself here in extravagance or in contradiction. We are not going to maintain that the Apostle would shut himself out, or us, from interest or delight in the innocent beauty or gladness of the earth. But yet, is it not true that we are all passing on to death, and in death are to be parted from all this? Is it not true that as Christians we consent to dying; we count it the good discipline of Christ's people that they should die, and pass so into the better life? Is it not true that our life as Christians should train us to maintain this mind deliberately and habitually, calmly and gladly? For indeed this life, at its purest and best, still offers to us a vision of good that is apt to steal our hearts away from the supreme good, the best and highest. Now that best and highest rises before us, as practically to be made ours, in the resurrection.
Meanwhile, it is well, no doubt, that we should cherish a frank and thankful gladness in all earthly good and earthly beauty that can be taken as from the Father's hand. Yet there should grow upon us an inward consent, strengthening as the days go by, that this shall not endure; that it shall not be our permanent possession; that it shall be loosely held, as before long to be parted from. Such a mind should grow, not because our hearts are cold to the present country of our being, but because they are warming towards a better country. These earthly things are good, but they are not ours; we have only a lease of them, terminable at any time. Who shall bring us to that which is, and shall eternally be, our very own?
So Christ our Master passed through life, with an open eye and heart for the fair and the lovable around Him, for flowers and little children, and for what was estimable or attractive in men, even in a natural way. Surely all was dear to Him on which He could see the trace of the Creator's holy hands. Yet He passed on and passed by, going forward to death and consenting to die, His face set steadfastly to a joy before Him which could not be realised by lingering here.
Now let this be especially observed, that while we may here recognise a practical lesson to be learned, the wisest of us may also recognise it as a lesson we could not undertake to teach to ourselves. To oppose sin, when conscience and God's word warn us of its presence, is at least something definite and plain. But how to take the right attitude and bear the right mind towards this various, manifold, engrossing, wonderful human life, as it unfolds for us here — how shall that be done? Some have tried to answer by amputating large sections of human experience. But that is not the way. For, indeed, it is in human life itself — in this present, and, for the present, the only form of our existence — that we must take the right view of human life, and form the right mind about it. Moreover, our conditions are varying continually, from the state of the little child, open to every influence that strikes the sense, to the state of the old man, whom age is shutting up in a crippled and stunted existence. The just equipoise of soul for one stage of life, could it be attained, would not be the just equipoise for the next.
The truth is, there is no ready-made theory here for any of us. All our attainments in it are tentative and provisional; which does not hinder, however, that they may be very real. When we believe in Christ we become aware that there is a lesson in this department to be learned, and we become willing, in a measure, to learn it. But we should learn little were it not for three great teachers that take us in hand.
The first is the inevitable conflict with sin and temptation. The Christian must, at all events, strive against known sin, and he must hold himself ready to resist the onset of temptation, watching and praying. In this discipline he soon learns how sin is entangled for him with much that in other respects seems desirable or good; he learns that in rejecting sin he must forgo some things which on other accounts he gladly would embrace. It is often a painful conflict through which he has to pass. Now in seeking help from his Lord, and entering into the fellowship of the mind of Christ, he is not only strengthened to repel the sin, but also learns to submit willingly to any impoverishment or abridgement of earthly life which the conflict entails. He is taught in practice, now in one form, now in another, to count all things but loss — to lower the overweening estimate of earthly treasure and let it go, dying to it with his dying Lord.
Then, besides, there is the discipline of suffering. Sorrow, indeed, is not peculiar to Christians. Of it, all are partakers. But Christian endurance is part of a fellowship with Christ, in which we learn of Him. In the warm air of prosperity a hot mist rises round the soul, that hides from view the great realities, and that deceives and misleads us with its vain mirage. But in suffering, taken in Christ's way and in fellowship with Him, in the pain of disappointment and of loss, and especially in the exercise of submission, we are taught feelingly where our true treasure is; and we are trained to consent to separations and privations, for the sake of Christ, and under the influence of the love of Christ.
And, lastly, the growth of Christian experience and Christian character deepens our impressions of the worth of Christ's salvation, and gives more body and more ardour to Christian hope. As that world with its perfect good draws the believer, as it becomes more visible to faith and more attractive, his grasp of this world becomes, perhaps, not less kindly, but it becomes less tenacious. Knowledge, such as the schools of earth afford, we still feel to be desirable and good. Love, under the conditions which earth supplies for its exercise, we still feel to be very dear. The activities which call out courage and resource, we still feel to be interesting and worthy. Yet knowledge proves to be but in part. And love, if it does not die, needs for its health and security a purer air. And in the problems of active life failure still mingles with success. But the love of God which is in Jesus Christ grows in worth and power; so that, in new applications of the principle, we learn afresh to "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ."
In a word, then, that we may grow into the mind of Christ, sufferings and self-denials are appointed to come into experience. He sets them for us; we should not wisely set them for ourselves. They come in the conflict with sin or in the ordinary discipline of life. Either way they become for believers the fellowship of Christ's sufferings; for they are taken in Christ's way, under His eye, endured in the strength of His truth and grace and salvation. So believers become more conformable to His death. Hence this discipline of trial is indispensable to all disciples.
Some such view of the ends of Christ in regard to separation from sin and disengagement from the life which is doomed to die, we suppose to have been before Paul's mind. He had come to Christ for life, abundant and victorious, such as should be answerable to the power of Christ's resurrection. But he saw that such life must fulfil itself in a certain dying, made good in a fellowship of Christ's sufferings; and it must find its completeness and its peace beyond death, in the resurrection of the dead. Did he flinch or shrink from this? No: he longed to have it all perfectly accomplished. His knowledge of Christ was to be not only in the power of His resurrection, but in the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death.
Whatever mistakes have been made by followers of the ascetic life, it is a mistake on the other side to neglect this element of Christianity. He who is not self-denied, and that cheerfully, to the danger and seduction of lawful things, is one who has not his loins girt nor his lamp burning.
It is worth our while to mark the thoroughgoing sincerity of the Apostle's Christianity. Not merely did he in general embrace Christ and salvation: but with the utmost cordiality he embraced the method of Christ; he strove after fellowship with Christ's mind in living, and also in dying; he did so, though the fellowship included not only the power of His resurrection, but the fellowship of His sufferings. He longed to have it all fulfilled in his own case. So he strove toward the resurrection of the dead.
In parting from these great Christian thoughts we may note how fitly the power of Christ's resurrection takes precedence of the fellowship of His sufferings and the being made conformable to His death. Some have thought that, as death comes before resurrection, the order of the clauses might have been inverted. But it is only through the precedent virtue of Christ's resurrection that such a history is achieved, either in Paul or in any of us. We must be partakers of life in the power of Christ's resurrection, if we are to carry through the fellowship with the suffering and the death.
From the Epistle to the Philippians by Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal of New College. Edinburgh. Published by FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY in 1990. Digitally produced by Colin Bell, Julia Neufeld and the Online
Reach for the Calling Creator
To the Philippians - R. Rainy
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your calling be the best.