Friday, December 08, 2006


Immortality A funeral sermon largely by JS Stewart

'Death is swallowed up in victory.'—1 cor. 15. 54. 'That mortality might be swallowed up of life.' —2 cor. 5. 4.
Ecclesiastes 3 2 Tim 1:9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. 10 This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
There is the question-mark raised by death. We may talk glibly and unthinkingly: enough about 'the transience of life'; but inevitably there comes a day when we begin to realise that life's transience is now a desperately real fact for ourselves. The boundless time which once seemed at our disposal is reduced to a narrow span; and there is so much still to do, and so many things which we once hoped to achieve will never now be done; and is it all over when the darkness falls? *A shadow flits before me, Not thou, but like to thee: Ah, Christ! that it were possible For one short hour to see The souls we loved, that they might tell us What and where they be!'
Belief in the hereafter is not an abstract article of faith. It is not like believing in the existence of the planet Jupiter or in the historicity of Julius Caesar. These are things which do not actively concern us, one way or the other. But this matters personally and vitally and overwhelmingly. To believe in the life everlasting,'
When Robert Browning wrote, *God took her to Himself, as you would lift a sleeping child from a dark uneasy bed into your arms and the light,' was that just a poet's fancy trying to ease the smart and pain of an intolerable grief, and to cover up grim facts with the protective camouflage of illusion — or was it really true? In short, is life everlasting a creation, for their own comfort, of broken hearts in the bitterness of bereavement, or is it actual fact? Is it man's invention, or is it God's reality?

Signpost 1 to immortality is the fact of the reality of the unseen.
It is precisely the things we cannot see that are the most basic things in the universe. Love is invisible; yet love drives the wheels of life. Truth is invisible; but it haunts man like a passion. Personality is invisible; but what a dynamic force personality is! Conscience is invisible; yet where conscience reigns, there are certain men would die rather than do. Wordsworth was meditating of something invisible when he wrote the moving lines —
I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,' . Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.'
Yet to multitudes of men and women the still small voice of that invisible disturbing presence has meant more than all the raucous clamour of the world, 'Reality as actually experienced,' writes Aldous Huxley 'contains love, beauty, mystical ecstasy, intimations of Godhead. Science did not and still does not possess intellectual instruments with which to deal with these aspects of reality.' That is a deeply significant confession. It is surely clear beyond doubt that the unseen spiritual forces are the bedrock reality out of which, the whole complex structure of life and history and experience is hewn. In Robert Louis Stevenson's phrase, they are 'the nails and axles of the universe'.

Signpost 2 is the rationality of the universe.
Suppose we decide to abandon the Christian conviction and to drop belief in the hereafter. Do you see the position to which we are now driven? We have now to believe that life has brought this marvellous thing called personality into being, with all its splendid powers of love and heroism and nobility, only to annihilate it in the end. We have to believe that the universe, having toiled and travailed and agonised to produce its crowning creation, proceeds then to throw it out on the scrap-heap of death. We have to believe that the spirit which was ill Beethoven when he was working at white-heat on the Ninth Symphony, or in Leonardo as he painted the 'Last Supper', or in Martin Luther crying 'Here stand I; I can no other; so help me God', or in Father Damien living the Christ life among the lepers — is of no more significance or ultimate value than the leaves which go flying down the street before the autumn winds. It is by the vista of its eternal hope that Christianity makes sense of the universe: reject that vista, and immediately you are entangled in a host of problems far more embarrassing and intractable than those you are seeking to escape. It would indeed be no exaggeration to say that the alternative to the Christian position involves a surrender of intellect which it is an outrage to demand. The idea that the universe made itself is even more ridiculous when it is presented on another level. Let me illustrate. History tells us that atheist Robert Ingersoll once visited the great preacher Henry Ward Beecher, who took Ingersoll into his study to show him his theological books. Beecher’s study also housed a magnificent contoured globe of the world, complete with mountains and valleys rendered in a beautiful, creative work of art. Ingersoll, a bright, highly educated man, looked at the globe and said: “Beecher, that is a beautiful work of art. Who made it for you?”
Challenging Ingersoll’s denial of God’s creation, Beecher replied, “Oh, nobody. It just happened.”
Set on that scale, Ingersoll knew better than that, and so do we. If we can’t believe that a model of the world made itself, how can we believe that a universe, as vast and as complex, as predictable and majestic as ours is, made itself?
The wisest of those who study the universe agree. Physicist and mathematician, Sir James Jeans, after a lifetime of studying the universe wrote a book entitled The Mysterious Universe in which he stated: “The universe is beginning to look more like a great thought than a great machine. The vast creation all about us seems to be the expression of thought. If this is so, it seems reasonable to say that the thought is that of a great thinker, God.”
Yet another scientist, Walter F. Burk, who managed the Mercury and Gemini Space projects, told how his study of space had increased his faith in God, indicating that the further man penetrated space, the more he was confronted with the wisdom, majesty, and omnipotence of God.
When we look at the heaven and the earth, what we see seems to have “Made by God” stamped on it.
It would be a tragedy to go through life and never know God.
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning scaled the heights of truth with these words: “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God.” As long as the stars shine, the rains fall, and the seasons change with predictability, God will have a witness in the world.
“Man’s conscience is the lamp of the eternal” (Proverbs 20:27,
The very existence of conscience within us is a reflection of God in the soul of man.
In his Critique of Pure Reason, philosopher Immanuel Kant noted two things that never ceased to fill his heart with awe and wonder: “the starry heavens above me and the moral imperative within me.” Without, there is creation; within, there is conscience.

Signpost 3 is the character of God.
Here is man, with all those strong, quenchless longings which God has put into his heart. Here is this strange, restless creature, never quite at home in this seen and temporal world, dissatisfied with his own frustrations and imperfections, conscious of powers within himself requiring a different climate and a wider horizon for their full development and fruition. Here is man for ever clutching the inviolable hope that the heart of the universe is friendly, that the power which made him loves him, and that the end will be, not a sheer precipice and a fall to the abyss of nothingness, but a leaning back upon everlasting arms. The question is, Has God put that faith into man's heart Just to mock him? Do you suppose that a good God would allow man to cherish such longings, and then shatter them as a callous jest? Now if you believe Jesus, if God cares for the individual as Jesus said He did, if the very hairs of your head are all numbered and the paths of your feet all guided, if round your life there is the besetting pressure of the everlasting mercy, do you think a love so infinite and sublime is going to be defeated at the last by an incident like death? If the great Father has loved His children enough to go into the far country after them, to climb the terrible slopes of Calvary for them, to send the urgency and passion of His Holy Spirit to revive and rescue them, to cause all the bells of heaven to ring for the salvation of one of them coming home at last out of darkness into light; if God so loved the world — do you imagine that He will consent to have His love baulked and thwarted and robbed by death at the end of the day?

Signpost 4 is the Christian' experience of regeneration.
He promised men the gift of immortality ~ a fact which confronts us with the solemn alternative that either the belief in the hereafter is true, or else Jesus deliberately misled us. It is not only that. Far more than that, it is this — that all down the Christian centuries countless men and women, entering into fellowship with Christ, have found eternal life as a present possession. 'We have passed from death unto life,' cried one of them. We are not waiting for the great transition to come to us at the journey's end. It has happened already, through our fellowship with Jesus. We have passed over into a new realm. The bitterness of death is behind us. The eternal order has projected itself out of the future into the present; we have felt the power of an endless life go thrilling through our experience. We possess it now' 'Some morning you will read in the papers,' said Moody the evangelist once to a group of friends, *that D. L. Moody is dead. Don't believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I was born of the flesh in 1837 — I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die: that which is born of the Spirit shall live for ever.' He was right. Death cannot touch this glorious thing which is ours in fellowship with Jesus. 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life': and death lies dead for ever.

Signpost 5 the Resurrection of Christ Himself.
Death they said, had met its match on the day when Jesus had looked into its grim visage. It had been vanquished all along the line. Mortality had been swallowed up of life. We who are sons of the Resurrection have been liberated for ever from the bondage of the ultimate fear. 'Death is a fearful thing: To die, and go we know not where.' So cried Shakespeare's Claudio. But we who believe in a risen Redeemer have passed beyond the reach of that harrowing dismay. We have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken. The darkest mystery has been lit up by a gleam of glory from another world, and from behind the clouds of our mortality there has broken forth the light of heaven.

When Mark Twain was at the height of his career, he met dignitaries from all over the world. The story goes that, one day, his young daughter said to him, “Daddy, if this keeps up, pretty soon you are going to know everybody in the world except God.”
In a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, an elderly priest speaks to the young convict, the Count, encouraging him to turn to God. The despairing prisoner complains, saying that he does not believe in God. The wise priest replies, “No matter — he believes in you.” God believes in you enough to think of your needs and provide for them in his creation.

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