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The Knowledge Which is Life Eternal.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 200-206.

Second part of Sermon LXIII. for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.
 Eph. iii. 13-21.    St. Luke vii. 11-17.
And to know the love of CHRIST, which passeth knowledge.EPH. iii. 19.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...It is, therefore, not with the understanding, but with faith and prayer, my brethren, that I would ask you to attend to that account of the love and power of Christ which is recorded to us in the Gospel for to-day. And may God of His great mercy grant that both you and I may have the seeing eye, and the hearing ear, while we look on and behold Christ, God of very God, though clothed with human flesh, manifested to us in this wonderful incident. May the Spirit give us to see His sacred countenance, and to hear His gracious words. 

And it came to pass the day after, that Jesus went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people. Now we must consider our Blessed Lord in this His going about, what it was; it was not like any great man among ourselves, when, as he proceeds, persons stand aloof and gaze apart, from his being hedged about by something of worldly pomp: it was not so with our Lord, there was no such state or outward dignity; on the contrary, the people thronged Him and pressed upon Him; for His external deportment was exceedingly humble, He was not only as one of them-selves among the crowd, but as the poorest of the poor; and not only this, but from His extreme condescension to the most mean and afflicted, to women and little children, He made Himself as it were still lower in mind even than His personal outward appearance. This was so much the case, that the disciples were surprised that He asked on one occasion who touched Him, because all the people in the crowd pressed upon Him and thronged Him; and at another time this was mentioned as so much the case, that He was obliged to get into a boat to teach them. From this we may learn how it was when He went about,—there was no authority of worldly greatness. But what was remarkable in our Blessed Lord was the exceeding holiness and power of His words, and that Divine love which emanated from Him, and seemed to encompass Him all around with compassion and tenderness, beyond the sons of men. True indeed it is, that at the sight of a very holy person all good men are impressed with awe, more than in the presence of the greatest of kings; but then this is only the case with good men; the multitude, comprising many Scribes and Pharisees, many of the proud and profane, have no feeling of this kind. So was it now; some no doubt were deeply awe-struck, not so much at His miracles, as by His holiness, and by His words that entered the soul, and seemed to be within a man’s inmost heart, full of eyes. But even this was accompanied with such a singular lowliness and pity, that rendered His Divine presence something quite different from that of any other teacher; for while His words were with Divine authority, His deeds were as One Who made Himself the servant of all. Such were the mingled feelings of amazement and wonder which filled St. Peter when he exclaimed, “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet ?" And that of the Baptist, when he said, “I have need to be washed of Thee, and comest Thou to me ?" And again, this familiar access was so great, that Judas the traitor, when he wished to point out his Divine Master, had no means of doing it, except this sign, “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He !“ As if he had said, He is so like other men that you will not know Him apart, except for that love which He bears tome; the love that He bears to me, that is the sign. 

By these remarks I wish to describe and set before you what our Lord’s going about was, so that you may see Him as it were in your minds as He proceeded with “much people” in this passage. Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, this little town, called Nain, on a rising ground, at the foot of Mount Tabor, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and much people of the city was with her. “Behold,” says the Evangelist, as drawing attention to a sight which suddenly arrested their course; a funeral met them, unusually large, because it was attended with circumstances of more than ordinary distress; a young man prematurely cut off, an only son, and not that only, but the only son of a widow; and her sad case, from the account, seemed to have excited the compassion of all around; for “much people of the city” were gathered around her, not merely attendants of the funeral, but it is said, with her, as if supporting her, and desirous to console her, as far as might be, by their presence. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. If the case was such as to have occasioned commiseration arid pity among all her neighbours, much more must it have done so with our Lord Himself; for He is oftentimes described, as the Son of Man, so full of what may be called human sympathy and pity. Thus when it is said that He wept at the grave of Lazarus, the account seems to imply that the immediate occasion of this was His beholding the distress of others; for it is said just before, “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the’ Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” And the same is implied on this occasion, for it is said, “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her ;“ whereas it might have been supposed that He would have wrought the miracle indeed with Divine love and goodness, but Himself all the while undisturbed at the sight of sorrows, the occasions of which He could so easily remove. But it was not so; although Himself at all times full of that indescribable peace which He bestows on others, yet that peace was mixed with the very tenderest concern for all human sorrow, such as man feels for man, or rather far more, though it be the same kind of pity, and such as is always found in good men. Such is here signified by the description of the Evangelist, that He was moved with compassion; such as is said of Him on another occasion, when He saw the multitudes weary and without food, or ignorant and needing instruction. And, in addition to this expression of the Evangelist’s, the words our Lord uses are those of the most tender commiseration, “He said unto her, Weep not.” It was not the funeral, nor the large concourse that attended it, which had arrested His regard; but the mother’s sorrow. This is as it were the centre of attention, the one great point which pervades the whole narrative; His compassion for the mother when He saw her, and His restoring to her the lost son of her widowhood. While as our gracious Saviour’s words are ever powerful to perform what they speak, His words, “Weep not,” take away at the same time all cause for weeping. 

And He came and touched the bier, (and they that bare him stood still). They stopped with their heavy burden of death, as no bearers or mourners ever have done before or since; they stopped to gaze in awe on One Who showed by His compassions that it was not without purposes of good that He had arrested their course; and perhaps from His very manner they perceived in faith some mysterious intimation that He Whom they had now met was no other than the conqueror of death. 

And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. On each occasion when our Lord raised the dead, it is stated that He addressed Himself and spoke to the person who was dead. As, “Lazarus, come forth ;“ or, “Maid, arise.” And in each case signified the same by His actions, as on one, “taking her by the hand,” on the other, “opening the grave,” and here, “putting His hand on the bier.” So will it be at the last day; “the hour cometh, yea, now is, in which all that are in their graves shall hear His voice.” Each in his grave shall hear His voice, as addressed to himself individually. So is it now; to the conscience of each one He speaks, as if there was no other, saying, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” 

And he that was dead sat up. They were carried on a bier without a coffin, or rather the bier itself, in some respects, resembled an open coffin; he sat up, and began to speak: and He delivered him to his mother. Taking him probably by the hand, and giving him to her, as implying that it was for her sake, in answer to her tears and secret prayers, and the anguish of her heart, breathed forth to Him alone; giving him to her no longer as a dead man, but full of the bloom and strength of life. 

And there came a fear on all, and they glorified God, saying, That a great Prophet is risen up among us, and that God hath visited His people. And this rumour of Him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about. 
Now, if we let our minds dwell on this wonderful incident, there is one thought which has probably occurred to us, which is this: what must have been the feelings of the mother when she thus received her son ? She was, we may suppose, a very holy and humble person, both from the interest she had excited in others, and especially from our Lord’s marked observation and care of her, who alone knows the heart of man. It is said that “fear came upon all,” much more must a sense of indescribable awe have come upon her, so much so as to have swallowed up every other feeling in adoring amazement, and love and wonder. She had received, indeed, back at His hands the most precious of all earthly gifts, but this could only be for a time, and till death came again for her son and for herself. She probably felt little or no joy at receiving him again, because such a feeling must have been lost in one far greater and more overwhelming, which was this: she had seen God face to face; she had seen such love and such power combined, that proved something far greater than this was to be obtained of Him. For He Whom she had seen in the flesh had evidently power over death, and a will, nay, an earnest desire, to exert that power. 

In conclusion I may just observe, to ourselves, at this day, who read or hear this account, it is more than our life is worth that we do not read it merely as an interesting history, or I may say even this, that we do not read it only as a manifestation of Godhead. When the clergyman meets the bier at the churchyard gate, and says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord,” it is a comfort to think of the narrative of this day’s Gospel, and of Him Who met and touched the bier. But surely this is not enough. The intention of this being revealed to us is because it is of the very utmost importance, of value inconceivable, towards the regulation of our daily life; that, as our Prayer Book says, in the Burial Service, He may “raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness.” It is the visible manifestation of Him “Who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us ;“ for we stand in the presence of Him in Whose hands are spiritual life and spiritual death. What would you have thought of any one who could have trilled and sported under the eye of Christ, when He had just done this deed of raising the dead ? We should have thought it quite impossible. 

But now, if we in faith receive this miracle, it is, I may say, all one as if we saw it, nay more, for we might have seen it with our bodily eyes, and yet not with faith. 

Let us, therefore, go home this day as if we had seen this miracle, had seen Christ with His hand on the coffin, and the young man awakening at His word from the sleep of death. How deep and humble would have been our repentance at finding God so near to us! 

Let it be so now, and it will be to us one step towards knowing the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.