[The Booklyn Tabernacle was elaborately decorated (April 25, 1886), both
in platform and galleries. Within the church a scene of rare beauty was
presented, the platform being covered with flowers arranged in various
devices and breathing forth a delicate aroma. The building was so crowded
that the doors were held open by the pressure, and many persons were turned
away, being unable to get farther than the iron gate on the street.]
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."-I Cor. 15:20.
On this glorious Easter morning, amid the music and the flowers, I give you Christian salutation.
Hail! Easter morning. Flowers! Flowers! All of them a-voice, all of them a-tongue, all of them full of speech today. I bend over one of the lilies, and I hear it say, 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solo-mon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.' I bend over a rose, and it seems to whisper, "I am the Rose of Sharon." And then I stand and listen. From all sides there comes the chorus of flowers, saying, "If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
Flowers! Flowers! Braid them into the bride's hair. Flowers! Flowers! Strew them over the graves of the dead, sweet prophecy of the resurrection. Flowers! Flowers! Twist them into a garland for my Lord Jesus on Easter morning, and "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be."
Why, if a rainbow this morning had fallen and struck the platform, the scene could not have been more radiant. Oh, how bright and how beautiful the flowers, and how much they make me think of Christ and His salvation that brightens everything it touches, brightens our lives, brightens our character, brightens society, brightens the church, brightens everything!
You who go with gloomy countenance pretending you are better than I am because of your lugubriousness, you cannot cheat me. You old hypocrite! I know you. Pretty case you are for a man that professes to be more than conqueror! It is not religion that makes you gloomy; it is the lack of it. There is just as much religion in a wedding as in a burial; just as much religion in a smile as in a tear.
Those gloomy Christians we sometimes see are the people to whom I like to lend money, for I never see them again! The women came to the Saviour's tomb, and they dropped spices all around the tomb, and those spices were the seeds that began to grow, and from them came all the flowers of this Easter morn. The two angels robed in white took hold of the stone at the Saviour's tomb, and they hurled it with such force down the hill that it crushed in the door of the world's sepulchre, and the stark and the dead must come forth.
I care not how labyrinthine the mausoleum or how costly the sarcophagus or however beautifully parterred the family grounds, ye want them all broken up by the Lord of the resurrection. They must come out. Father and mother-they must come out. Husband and wife-they must come out. Brother and sister-they must come out. Our darling children-they must come out. The eyes that we close with such trembling fingers must open again in the radiance of that morn. The arms we folded in dust must join ours in an embrace of reunion. The voice that was hushed in our dwelling must be returned.
Oh, how long some of you seem to be waiting-waiting for the resurrection, waiting! And for these broken hearts today I make a soft, cool bandage out of Easter flowers.
Six years ago the night before Easter, I received an Easter card on which there was a representation of that exquisite flower, the trumpet creeper; and under it the words: "The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise." There was especial reason why at that time I should have that card sent me, and I present the same consolation today to all in this house, and who has escaped?
CHRIST IN RISING FROM THE DEAD CONQUERED DEATH FOR ALL HIS OWN
My friends, this morning I find in the risen Christ a prophecy of our own resurrection, my text setting forth the idea that as Christ has risen, so His people will rise. He-the first sheaf of the resurrection harvest. He-"the firstfruits of them that slept."
Before I get through this morning, I will walk through all the cemeteries of the dead, through all the country graveyards where your loved ones are buried; and I will pluck off these flowers, and I will drop a sweet promise of the Gospel-a rose of hope, a lily of joy on every tomb-the child's tomb, the husband's tomb, the wife's tomb, the father's tomb, the mother's tomb. While we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we will at the same time celebrate the resurrection of all the saved. "ChristÉthe firstfruits of them that slept."
If I should come to you this morning and ask for the names of the great conquerors of the world, you would say Alexander, Caesar, Philip, Napoleon I. Ah! my friends, you have forgotten to mention the name of a greater conqueror than all these-a cruel, a ghastly conqueror. He rode on a black horse across Waterloo and Atlanta and Chalons, the bloody hoofs crushing the hearts of nations. It is the conqueror-Death.
He carries a black flag, and he takes no prisoners. He digs a trench across the hemispheres and fills it with the carcasses of nations. Fifty times would the world have been depopulated had not God kept making new generations. Fifty times the world would have swung lifeless through the air-no man on the mountain, no man on the sea, an abandoned ship ploughing through immensity. Again and again has he done his work with all generations. He is a monarch as well as a conqueror; his palace a sepulchre; his fountains the falling tears of a world.
Blessed be God, in the light of this Easter morning, I see the prophecy that his septre shall be broken and his palace be demolished. The hour is coming when all who are in their graves shall come forth. Christ risen, we shall rise. Jesus-"the firstfruits of them that slept."
Now, around this doctrine of the resurrection there are a great many mysteries.
NO TROUBLE FOR A MIRACLE-WORKING GOD TO RAISE THE DEAD
You come to me this morning and say, "If the bodies of the dead are to be raised, how is this, and how is that?" You ask me a thousand questions I am incompetent to answer; but there are a great many things you believe that you are not able to explain. You would be a very foolish man to say, "I won't believe anything I can't understand."
Why, putting down one kind of flower seed, comes there up this flower of this color? Why, putting down another flower seed, comes there up a flower of this color? One flower is white, another flower yellow, another flower crimson. Why the difference when the seeds look to be very much alike-are very much alike? Explain these things.
Explain that wart on the finger. Explain the difference why the oak leaf is different from the leaf of the hickory. Tell me how the Lord Almighty can turn the chariot of His omnipotence on a rose leaf. You ask me questions about the resurrection I cannot answer. I will ask you a thousand questions about everyday life you cannot answer.
I find my strength in this passage: 'All who are in their graves shall come forth.' I do not pretend to make the explanation. You go on and say, "Suppose a returned missionary dies in Brooklyn; when he was in China, his foot was amputated; he lived years after in England, and there he had an arm amputated; he is buried today in Greenwood. In the resurrection will the foot come from China? Will the arm come from England? Will the different parts of the body be reconstructed in the resurrection? How is that possible?"
You say, "The human body changes every seven years, and by seventy years of age a man has had ten bodies; in the resurrection which will come up?" You say, "A man will die and his body crumble into the dust, and that dust be taken up into the life of the vegetable; an animal may eat the vegetable; men eat the animal. In the resurrection, that body, distributed in so many directions, how shall it be gathered up?" Have you any more questions of this style to ask? Come on and ask them. I do not pretend to answer them. I fall back upon the announcement of God's Word: 'All who are in their graves shall come forth.'
You have noticed, I suppose, in reading the story of the resurrection, that almost every account of it in the Bible gives the idea that the characteristic of that day will be a great sound. I do not know that it will be very loud, but I know it will be very penetrating.
In the mausoleum where silence has reigned a thousand years, that voice must penetrate. In the coral cave of the deep, that voice must penetrate. Millions of spirits will come through the gates of eternity, and they will come to the tombs of the earth, and they will cry, "Give us back our bodies; we gave them to you in corruption; surrender them now in incorruption."
Hundreds of spirits hovering about the crags of Gettysburg, for there the bodies are buried. A hundred thousand spirits coming to Greenwood, for there the bodies are buried, waiting for the reunion of body and soul.
All along the sea route from New York to Liverpool, at every few miles where a steamer went down, departing spirits coming back, hovering over the wave. There is where the City of Boston perished-found at last. There is where the President perished. Steamer found at last. There is where the Central America went down. Spirits hovering-hundreds of spirits hovering, waiting for the reunion of body and soul. Out on the prairie a spirit alights. There is where a traveler died in the snow. Crash goes Westminster Abbey, and the poets and orators come forth.
Who can sketch the scene? I suppose that one moment before that rising there will be an entire silence, save as you hear the grinding of a wheel, or the clatter of the hooves of a procession passing into the cemetery. Silence in all the caves of the earth. Silence on the side of the mountain. Silence down in the valleys and far out into the sea. Silence!
But in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as the archangel's trumpet comes pealing, rolling, crashing across the mountain and sea, the earth will give a terrific shudder, and the graves of the dead will heave like the waves of the sea. The drowned will come up and lift up their wet locks above the billow; and all the land and all the sea become one moving mass of life-all faces, all ages, all conditions gazing in one direction and upon one throne-the throne of resurrection. 'All who are in their graves shall come forth.'
"But," you say, "if this doctrine of the resurrection is true, as prefigured by this Easter morning, Christ, 'the firstfruits of them that slept,' and Christ's rising a promise and a prophecy of the rising of all His people, can you tell us something about the resurrected body?"
I can. There are mysteries about that, but I shall tell you three or four things in regard to the resurrected body that are beyond guessing and beyond mistake.
I. RESURRECTION BODY-A GLORIOUS BODY
In the first place, I remark in regard to your resurrected body: it will be a glorious body. The body we have now is a mere skeleton of what it would have been if sin had not marred and defaced it.
Take the most exquisite statue that was ever made by an artist, and chip it here and chip it there with a chisel, and batter and bruise it here and there, and then stand it out in the storms of a hundred years, and the beauty would be gone.
Well, the human body has been chipped and battered and bruised and damaged with the storms of thousands of years-the physical defects of other generations coming down from generation to generation. We inherit the infelicities of past generations; but in the morning of the resurrection, the body will be adorned and beautified according to the original model. There is not so much difference between a gymnast and an emaciated wretch in a lazaretto, as there will be a difference between our bodies as they are now and our resurrected forms.
There you will see the perfect eye after the waters of death have washed out the stains of tears and study. There you will see the perfect hand after the knots of toil have been untied from the knuckles. There you will see the form erect and elastic after the burdens have gone off the shoulder-the very life of God in the body.
In this world, the most impressive thing, the most expressive thing, is the human face; but that face is veiled with the griefs of a thousand years; but in the resurrection morn that veil will be taken away from the face, and the noonday sun is dull and dim and stupid compared with the outflaming glories of the countenances of the saved. When those faces of the righteous, those resurrected faces, turn toward the gate or look up toward the throne, it will be like the dawning of a new morning on the bosom of everlasting day! O glorious, resurrected body!
II. RESURRECTION BODY-AN IMMORTAL BODY
But I remark also in regard to that body, which you are to get in the resurrection, it will be an immortal body. These bodies are wasting away. Somebody has said that as soon as we begin to live, we begin to die. Unless we keep putting the fuel into the furnace, the furnace dies out. The blood vessels are canals taking the breadstuffs to all parts of the system. We must be reconstructed hour by hour, day by day. Sickness and death are all the time trying to get their prey under the tenement or to push us off the embankment of the grave.
But, blessed be God, in the resurrection we will get a body immortal. No malaria in the air, no cough, no neuralgic twinge, no rheumatic pang, no fluttering of the heart, no shortness of breath, no ambulance, no dispensary, no hospital, no invalid's chair, no spectacles to improve the dim vision; but health, immortal health! O ye who have aches and pains indescribable this morning-O ye who are never well-O ye who are lacerated with physical distresses, let me tell you of the resurrected body, free from all disease. Immortal! Immortal!
III. RESURRECTION BODY-A POWERFUL BODY
I go further and say in regard to that body which you are to get in the resurrection, it will be a powerful body. We walk now eight or ten miles, and we are fatigued. We lift a few hundred pounds, and we are exhausted. Unarmed, we meet a wild beast; and we must run or fly or climb or dodge because we are incompetent to meet it. We toil eight or ten hours vigorously, and then we are weary. But in the resurrection we are to have a body that never gets tired. Is it not a glorious thought?
Plenty of occupation in Heaven. I suppose Broadway, New York, in the busiest season of the year, at noonday, is not so busy as Heaven is all the time-grand projects of mercy. Victories to be celebrated. The downfall of despotisms on earth to be announced. Great expeditions on which God shall send forth His children-plenty to do, but no fatigue. If you are seated under the tree of life, it will not be to rest but to talk over with some old comrade old times-the battles where you fought shoulder to shoulder.
Sometimes in this world we feel we would like to have such a body as that. There is so much work to be done for Christ, so many tears to be wiped away, so many burdens to lift, so much to be achieved for Christ, we sometimes wish that from the first of January to the last of December we could toil on without stopping to sleep or take any recreation or to rest or even to take food; that we could toil right on without stopping a moment in our work of commending Christ and Heaven to all the people. But we all get tired.
It is a characteristic of the human body in this condition: we must get tired. Is it not a glorious thought that after awhile, after the service of God, we are going to have a body that will never get weary? O glorious resurrection day! Gladly will I fling aside this poor body of sin and fling it into the tomb, if at thy bidding I shall have a body that never wearies.
That was a splendid resurrection hymn that was sung at my father's burial:
So Jesus slept, God's dying Son
Passed through the grave and blessed the bed.
Rest here, blest saint, till from His throne
The morning breaks to pierce the shade.
O blessed resurrection! Speak out, sweet flowers, beautiful flowers. While you tell of a risen Christ, tell of the righteous who shall rise. May God fill you this morning with anticipation!
WE WILL MEET OUR CHRISTIAN LOVED ONES IN THE RESURRECTION
I heard of a father and son who, among others, were shipwrecked at sea. Father and son climbed onto the rigging. The father held on, but the son after awhile lost his hold on the rigging and was dashed down. The father supposed he had gone hopelessly under the wave. The next day the father was brought ashore from the rigging in an exhausted state and laid in a bed in a fisherman's hut. After many hours had passed, he came to consciousness and saw lying beside him on the same bed his boy.
Oh, my friends! What a glorious thing it will be if we wake up at last to find our loved ones beside us-coming up from the same plot in the graveyard, coming up in the same morning light. The father and son alive forever, all the loved ones alive forever, nevermore to weep, nevermore to part, nevermore to die.
May "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will" (Heb. 13:20,21); and let this brilliant scene of the morning transport our thoughts to the grander assemblage before the throne. This august assemblage is nothing compared with it. The one hundred and forty and four thousand, and the "great multitude that no man can number," some of our best friends among them; and we, after awhile, will join the multitude. Blessed anticipation!
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