The New Zealand Evangelist
New Testament ‘Life ’
New Testament ‘Life ’
There is in the New Testament a strange absence of allusion to the hour of death;—to its circumstances, characteristics, sensations, solaces; strange, I mean, as compared with the current popular theology of our day—not of our day exclusively or preeminently, but as influenced by, and harmonizing page 333 with, the accredited practical divinity of some generations past. Were modern apostles to draw up a text book of religion, it would be full to overflowing of the above topic. It always gains a hearing. Men are always eager to listen to highly wrought declamations on the dissolution of human nature. Its mystery is itself a charm. Now is it not true that, by an expressive and impressive negativeness, (so to speak,) the New Testament Scriptures discountenance this taste. They do not deal with it at all. They do not hold out a special promise of special comfort at that solemn hour. There must be some reason for such a silence on a matter thus momentous and interesting. If the authors of our modern books and tracts on religion, had been consulted, they would probably have studded the pages of their revelation with particular promises, for all the particular cases, requirements, exigencies of dying men. They would, we apprehend, deal much with the details of death—with the subjective aspect—with exemplars for ‘experience,’ and cannonical hints as to expedient ‘frames and feelings.’ The simplicity of the gospel is uninitiated in this philosophy. The deep-fraught, practical principle of the New Testament is, that he that hath the Son hath Life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not Life. It does not give the name of life to the petty existence whose physical duration can be ended by a momentary flaw in its mechanical organs. It appropriates the name to another and higher state of being, which is wholly independent on that animal condition. To live in the sense of the gospel, is to have life in Christ. And this life is everlasting. It begins in time but does not end in time;—nor does the death of the body interfere with it; for, when that which is animal dissolves, that which is spiritual goes on as healthfully and vigorously as ever. It is dependent only on Christ —and He is Life, He has Life in Himself. The animal life and the spiritual life run, as it were, in parallel lines for a certain period—the period to wit, page 334 of this mundane existcnce; but the parallelism ceases when the animal comes to an end,—the spiritual, meanwhile, continuing in uninjured vitality its conscious motion. The animal life is merged and overwhelmed in the “swellings of Jordan:”—the spiritual is unsprinkled by the spray. The inferior life decays: but this in nowise prejudices the distinct individualism of the superior. The one perishes by lack of sustenance; the other has meat to eat that the world knows not of.
Now it is with the latter, the upper life that the New Testament has to do;—not with the former and lower. And as its mission is single and restricted, it does not descend to the circumstances that appertain to physical death. True, there are general promises—amply sufficient to sustain and animate every humble believer; and the Old Testament, in particular, holds out cheering light by the way, even in the dark valley where the shadows gather and thicken. But special allusions are absent. The Revelation of God is filled with a higher theme—and its comprehensiveness involves the lower. The greater is unravelled—and the greater includes the less. He that hath the Son hath life, is a declaration calculated to provide for the anxieties of a deathbed; and if it does not descend to see how a man ought to feel, or to promise what a man shall feel, when laid “low by sickness, when tossed to and fro or worn out by extreme languor, when flesh and heart faileth”—it is because it is taken up with the higher life, which shall survive the effect of these tossings, and weaknesses, and throes of dissolution. It does not leave the man comfortless, because it omits detailing the minutiae of a last illness. But it comforts him with the assurance that all the while this higher life is intact. The pitcher is broken, but the lamp is not put out. The outer shell is broken—but the inner principle expands with enhanced, because less cramped, vitality. Because Christ lives, we shall live also. And while the perishable is subjected to its destiny, the life page 335 with Christ in God is within that boundary, concerning which the enemy is addressed, Hitherto thou mayest come—but no farther.