(First Sunday after Easter.)
John xx. 29. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
The eighth day after the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared a second time to his disciples. On this day he strengthened St. Thomas's weak faith, by giving him proof, sensible proof, that he was indeed and really the very same person who had been crucified, wearing the very same human nature, the very same man's body.
'Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.' You have not seen. You have never beheld with your bodily eyes, or touched with your bodily hand, as St. Thomas did, the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet you may be more blessed now, this day, than St. Thomas was then. We are too apt to fancy, that, to have seen the Lord with our eyes, to have walked with him, and talked with him, as the apostles did, was the greatest honour and blessing which could happen to man. We fancy, perhaps, at times, that if the Lord Jesus were to come visibly among us now, we should want nothing more to make us good: that we could not help listening to him, obeying him, loving him.
But the Scriptures prove to us that it was not so. The Scribes and Pharisees saw him and talked with him; yet they hated him. Judas Iscariot, yet he betrayed him. Pilate, yet he condemned him. The word preached profited them nothing, not being mixed with faith in those who heard him. Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, came and preached himself to them; declared to them who he was, proved who he was by his mighty works of love and mercy, and by fulfilling all the prophecies of Scripture which spoke of him; and yet they did not believe him, they hated him, they crucified him; because they had no faith.
You see, therefore, that something more than seeing him with our bodily eyes is wanted to make us believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; something more than seeing him with our bodily eyes is wanted to make us blessed. St. Thomas saw him; St. Thomas was allowed, by the boundless condescension and mercy of the Lord Jesus, to put his hand into his side. And yet the Lord does not say to him,--See how blessed thou art; see how honoured thou art, by being allowed to touch me. No; our Lord rather rebukes him for requiring such a proof.
There are those who will not believe without seeing; who say, I must have proof. What I hear in church is too much for me to believe without many more reasons than are given for it all. Many people, for instance, stumble at the stumbling-block of the cross, and cannot bring themselves to believe that God would condescend to suffer and to die for men. Others cannot make up their minds about the resurrection. It seems to them a strange and impossible thing that Jesus' body should have risen from the grave and ascended to heaven, and that our bodies should rise also. That was the great puzzle to the Greeks, who thought themselves very learned and cunning, and were great arguers and disputers about all deep matters in heaven and earth. When St. Paul preached to them on Mars' Hill, they heard him patiently enough, till he spoke of Jesus rising from the dead; and then they mocked; laughed at the notion as absurd. And we find that the Corinthians, even after they were converted and baptised Christians, were puzzled about this same matter. They could not understand how the dead were raised, and with what body they would come.
With such the Lord is not angry. If they really wish to know what is true, and to do what is right; if they really are, as St. Paul says, 'feeling after the Lord, if haply they may find him;' then the Lord will give them light in due time, and shew them what they ought to believe, and give them the sort of proof which they want. All such he treats as he did Thomas, when he said, in his great condescension, 'Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing.'
So the Lord sent to those Corinthians the very sort of proof which they wanted, by the hand of the learned apostle, St. Paul. They were great observers of the works of nature, of the strange movement and change, birth and death, which goes on in beasts, and in plants, and in the clouds, and the rivers, and the very stones under our feet. And they said, We cannot believe in the resurrection of the dead, because we see nothing like it in the world around us. And St. Paul was sent to tell them. No: you do see something like it. If you will look deeper into the working of the world around you, you will see that the rising again of the dead, instead of being an unnatural or an absurd thing, is the most reasonable and natural thing, the perfect fulfilment, and crowning wonder of wonderful laws which are working round you in every seed which you sow; in the flesh of beasts and fishes; in bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial: and so in that glorious chapter which we read in the Burial Service, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, who went altogether by sense, and reasoning about the things which they could see and handle, that sense and reasoning were on his side, on God's side; and that the mysteries of faith, like the resurrection of the body, were not contrary to reason, but agreed with it.
So does the Lord clear up the doubts of his people, in the way which is best for them. But he does not call them as blessed as others. There is a higher faith than that. There is a better part. The same part which Mary chose. The same faith of which our Lord says,-- 'Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.' The faith of the heart; the childlike, undoubting, ready, willing faith, which welcomes the news of the Lord; which runs to meet it, and is not astonished at it; and, if it ever doubts for a moment, only doubts for very joy and delight; and feeling that the news of the gospel is good news, cannot help feeling now and then that it is too good news to be true; shewing its love and its faith in its very hesitation. This is the childlike heart, whereof it is written, 'Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.'
The hearts of little children; the hearts which begin by faith and love toward God himself; the hearts which know God; the hearts to whom God has revealed himself, and taught them, they know not how, that he is love. They are so sure of God's goodness, so sure of his power, so sure of his love, his willingness to have mercy, and to deliver poor creatures, that they find nothing strange, nothing difficult, in the mysteries of faith. To them it is not a thing incredible, that God should have come down and died upon the cross. When they hear the good news of him who gave his own life for them, it seems a natural thing to them, a reasonable thing: not of course a thing which they could have expected; but yet not a thing to doubt of or to be astonished at. For they know that God is love.
And now some of you may say, 'Then are we more blessed than Thomas? We have not seen, and yet we have believed. We never doubted. We never wanted any arguments, or learned books, or special inward assurances. From the moment that we began to learn our catechisms at school we believed it, of course, every word of it. Do we not say the Creed every Sunday; I believe in--and so forth?' O my friends, do you believe indeed? If you do, blessed are you. But are you sure that you speak truth?
You may believe it. But do you believe in it? Have you faith in it? Do you put your trust in it? Is your heart in it? Is it in your heart? Do you love it, rejoice in it, delight to think over it; to look forward to it, to make yourselves ready and fit for it. Do you believe in it, in short, or do you only believe it, as you believe that there is an Emperor of China, or that there is a country called America, or any other matter with which you have nothing to do, for which you care nothing, and which would make no difference at all to you, if you found out to-morrow that it was not so. That is mere dead belief; faith without works, which is dead, the belief of the brains, not the faith of the heart and spirit.
Oh, do you really believe the good news of this text, in which the Son of God himself said to mortal men like ourselves, 'Handle me and see that it is I, indeed; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.' Do you believe that there is a Man evermore on the right hand of God? That now as we speak a man is offering up before the Father his perfect and all-cleansing sacrifice? That, in the midst of the throne of God, is he himself who was born of the Virgin Mary, and crucified under Pontius Pilate? Do you wish to find out whether you believe that or not? Then look at your own hearts. Look at your own prayers. Do you think of the Lord Jesus Christ, do you pray to the Lord Jesus Christ, as a man, very man, born of woman? Do you pray to him as to one who can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities, because he has been tempted in all things like as you are, yet without sin? When you are sad, perplexed, do you take all your sorrows and doubts and troubles to the Lord Jesus, and speak them all out to him honestly and frankly, however reverently, as a man speaketh to his friend? Do you really cast all your care on him, because you believe that he careth for you? If you do, then indeed you believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; and you will surely have your reward in a peace of mind, amid all the chances and changes of this mortal life, which passes man's understanding. That blessed knowledge that the Lord knows all, cares for all, condescends to all--That thought of a loving human face smiling upon your joys, sorrowing over your sorrows, watching you, educating you from youth to manhood, from manhood to the grave, from the grave to eternities of eternities-- Whosoever has felt that, has indeed found the pearl of great price, for which, if need be, he would give up all else in earth or heaven.
Or do you say to yourselves at times, I must not think too much about the Lord Jesus's being man, lest I should forget that he is God? Do you shrink from opening your heart to him? Do you say within yourself, He is too great, too awful, to condescend to listen to my little mean troubles and anxieties? Besides, how can I expect him to feel for them; I, a mean, sinful man, and he the Almighty God? How do I know that he will not despise my meanness and paltriness? How do I know that he will not be angry with me? I must be more reverent to him, than to trouble him with very petty matters. He was a man once when he was upon earth: but now that he is ascended up on high, Very God of Very God, in the glory which he had with the Father before the worlds were made, I must have more awful and solemn thoughts about him, and keep at a more humble distance from him.
Do you ever have such thoughts as those come over you, my friends, when you are thinking of the Lord Jesus, and praying to him? If you do, shall I tell you what to say to them when they arise in your minds, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.' Get thee away, thou accusing devil, who art accusing my Lord to me, and trying to make me fancy him less loving, less condescending, less tender, less understanding, than he was when he wept over the grave of Lazarus. Get thee away, thou lying hypocritical devil, who pretendest to be so very humble and reverent to the godhead of the Lord Jesus, in order that thou mayest make me forget what his godhead is like, forget what God's likeness is, forget that it was in his manhood, in his man's words, his man's thoughts, his man's actions, that he shewed forth the glory of God, the express image of his person, and fulfilled the blessed words, 'And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.' Get thee behind me, Satan. I believe in the good news of Easter Day, and thou shall not rob me of it. I believe that he who died upon the Cross, rose again the third day, as very and perfect man then and now, as he was when he bled and groaned on Calvary, and shuddered at the fear of death, in the garden of Gethsemane. Thou shalt not make my Lord's incarnation, his birth, his passion, his resurrection, all that he did and suffered in those thirty-three years, of none effect to me. Thou shalt not take from me the blessed message of my Bible, that there is a man in heaven in the midst of the throne of God. Thou shalt not take from me the blessed message of the Athanasian Creed, that in Christ the manhood is taken into God. Thou shalt not take from me the blessed message of Holy Communion, which declares that the very human flesh and blood of him who died on the Cross is now eternal in the heavens, and nourishes my body and soul to everlasting life. Thou shalt not, under pretence of voluntary humility and will-worship, tempt me to go and pray to angels or to saints, or to the Blessed Virgin, because I choose to fancy them more tender, more loving and condescending, more loving, more human, than the Lord himself, who gave himself to death for me. If the Lord God, the Son of the Father, is not ashamed to be man for ever and ever, I will not be ashamed to think of him as man; to pray to him as man; to believe and be sure that he can be touched with the feeling of my infirmities; to entreat him, by all that he did and suffered as a man, to deliver me from those temptations which he himself has conquered for himself; and to cry to him in the smallest, as well as in the most important matters--'By the mystery of thy holy incarnation; by thine agony and bloody sweat; by thy cross and passion; by thy precious death and burial; by thy glorious resurrection and ascension;' by all which thou hast done, and suffered, and conquered, as a man upon this earth of ours, good Lord, deliver us!
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