By Horatius Bonar, 1867
"Like draws to like," is man's maxim, and man's principle of action. The things that resemble, attract each other; the things that differ, repel. Love attracts love; the loving and the loveable knit themselves together. Life attracts life; and the living cleave to the living. Things congenial discover their mutual congenialities, and find their way to each other, as by some magnetic virtue; things uncongenial keep far asunder. Life and death have no brotherhood; and what communion has light with darkness?
Such is the law of earth! Such is the action of human hearts; such the extent of the circle, within which, even at their widest stretch, they revolve; such the measure of the depths to which their loves and sympathies can descend. Likeness, and fitness, and worthiness, are necessary elements in all earthly affinities.
But such is not the heavenly law. The principle of divine action, the regulating power of the infinite heart above, is the reverse of this. The law of grace, or principle on which God's actings of free-love proceed, is what man would call the law of unfitness, and unworthiness, and unlikeness.
Well for us that it is so! What would have been our hope, had it been otherwise?
In God's dealings with man, it is the unlike that we see uniting. What more unlike than God and the sinner? yet they have come together! What more dissimilar than heaven and earth? yet they have come together! The mutual attraction has been the mutual unlikeness. Lack of resemblance has been the knitting bond. The evil has drawn out the good; the darkness has attracted the light; the unrighteousness has awakened the righteousness; the death has brought down the life; the grave has called up resurrection. Where sin has abounded, grace has abounded much more.
The Life has been manifested! This is our gospel. It is not, "the Life is," but "the Life" has come forth from its eternal mystery; "the Life" has been MANIFESTED; so as to be seen, and heard, and handled. In the Word was life; no, the Word was the Life. "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). The "light of the world" is the Word made flesh, the manifested life of God. The Life was manifested, and we beheld his glory– the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. In the light we have the life, and in the life we have the light.
The Life has been manifested! But what has drawn it out? What has given it opportunity to come forth? Death! It is not life that has attracted life; nor light that has given occasion for the outshining of light. No; but death and darkness; utter death, absolute darkness.
Thus God, the God of all grace, has spoken out, and revealed to us the breadth and length of his infinite love. Thus we learn the true meaning, and discover the essence of that grace which has been proclaimed to us by the lips, and embodied in the person of the incarnate Son. It is the total unlikeness between the lover and the loved one that brings out the real nature of grace. Love to the unlovable and unloving is its very essence. Apart from this it has no meaning, no reality, no suitableness. Introduce one element of resemblance, one fragment or feature of loveableness, and grace is gone.
It was the manifestation of death on earth that called forth this manifestation of life from heaven. Man's utter death has drawn out the fullness of the life of God. The entrance of death was the signal for the entrance of life. Life, in its boundless fullness, seemed on the watch to enter in and take possession of earth. But it could not do so until death had come. As it needs darkness to bring out the glory of the starry heavens, so it needed death to show forth the life– life such as had not been possessed before, nor could be, by man unfallen, or upon a sinless earth. Hence the deep significance of the Lord's words, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Thus and then the Life entered! Not like a monarch, to take possession of a fitting palace; but like a physician, to take possession of an hospital; like spring, coming to take possession of a wintry earth; like day-spring, coming to take possession of the darkened skies. What an entrance! Not invited by kindred life, still lingering among men but uninvited, no, repelled. It is the absence of life here, that is the cause of its manifestation from on high. The reign of death is the herald of the reign of life, as midnight is the herald of the morn.
A manifestation such as this, in heaven, where all is life, would not have seemed so marvelous; for man's rule is, "like draws to like." But it is passing wonderful that it should have been here in the land of death. Yet this is only the more like that God from whom the manifestation came. For his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways ours. His love is not our love, nor his pity ours. As he sends his rain and his sunshine, just where they are needed, and when they are needed, and because they are needed, not because they are there already; so is it with his grace and its revelation; with life and its manifestation.
That grace and life came to us simply because we needed them, and because God needed sin and death like ours, for the display of his fullness. He needs midnight that he may say, "Let there be light;" he needs the storm that he may say, "Peace, be still;" he needs the creature's emptiness for the display of the Creator's strength; he needs the sinner's evil to furnish a sphere for the forthcoming of the good in himself, which– but for this, had been pent up and hidden. He allows man to fall that he may show how he can love and lift up the fallen. He lets Eden become a wilderness, that he may show how he can make the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose. So he takes the dried-up well, and fills it; he takes the broken harp, and draws out from it the full compass of his heavenly music; he takes the quenched star, and lights it up into a more resplendent and everlasting sun.
It was the blind man that was the object of attraction to the Son of God; and Jesus needed him as truly as he needed Jesus. The tomb of Lazarus was to Him more attractive than the house of Lazarus; for at the house he was the receiver, at the tomb he was the giver. The leper drew near to him, and he to the leper, as by some mutual fitness, by some irresistible necessity; he needing the leper, and the leper needing him. The tax-collector and he were daily meeting, finding each other out, attracted by their mutual need; the righteous and the unrighteous recognizing, in each other, an object exactly suited to that which they severally possessed. The sick one and the healer had a link between those who no other knew, and with which a stranger could not intermeddle. It was the lost one that attracted the seeker; the lost sheep that made the shepherd's journey a necessity; the lost piece of silver that made the woman light her candle; and the lost son that brought the father to the door; to watch, in longing love, for the wanderer's return.
The Life was manifested! And we have seen it! Life in the realms of the dead; light in the land of darkness; God manifest in flesh– this is what our eyes have seed. Yes; and these things are written, for us, that our joy may be full; for in that life is love.
Go to Bethlehem; look into yon cradle; what is that? It is the manifested Life. Climb the hills of Galilee, and enter Nazareth; see yon boy, so like, yet so unlike all others; he is the manifested Life. Pass over Olivet, and visit Bethany; stand by yon tomb, where a dead man has lain four days; hear the voice which in a moment empties the grave, and recalls the dead; what is that? It is the manifested Life. Look at Golgotha; mark yon cross. Is it death, or is it life? It is both. It is death conquering life, and life overcoming death. The manifested Life is yonder; no, in that very death there is the fullest manifestation of life. Look once more at yon empty grave, from which the stone has been rolled away. Who is it that early in the morning, while it is yet dark, comes forth from its rocky gloom? It is the manifested Life; the risen Son of God; the Resurrection and the Life; he who says, "I am he who lives and was dead." Yes; at the cradle, and the cross, and the tomb, the Life has been manifested! Blessed manifestation for us, the dead in sin! The Life has come; and because he lives, we shall live also; for he that has the Son has life.
This word "life" was one which the Son of God took up when here, and held it forth, in many forms, and under many figures. He speaks of himself as "the Life," as the bread of life, as the water of life, as the light of life. All that life can mean or embody is deposited in him, personified in him, dispensed by him. All that God calls life is in him. The fullness of the eternal life is contained in this divine vessel, this heavenly well-spring; for in him we have the well of water springing up into everlasting life. He is the eternal Life; he is the Prince of life; he is the tree of life; he is the living stone, and the living way.
Surely there is no lack of life for us. But what if it be all untasted by us? What if it be rejected and despised? Here is life for you; but is it in you? Here is life come down to earth; but has it quickened you? Here is life knocking at the door of death; have you admitted it, or has it knocked in vain? For, as it was with the world at large, so is it with individual souls. It is the death that is in each that attracts the heavenly life; not some lurking remains of life, nor the possession, however slender, of some goodness– but the entire absence of both life and goodness. It is to the dead that the life comes; it is to the unlovable that the love comes; it is to the lost that the salvation comes. That which qualifies us for life, for healing, for riches, for deliverance, is our death, our sickness, our poverty, and our bondage.
The Life has been manifested! The Christ has come. For us the Word took flesh. For us he fought the great battle with death, and won the eternal victory; passing through death that he might destroy death, and convey to us the everlasting life. Never before was life so fully embodied; and revealed, and made accessible. Never before was death so terribly manifested. The two extremities of being were exhibited in him; all that God calls life, which is the highest and fullest form of being, and all that God calls death, which is its lowest and emptiest. Never had life seemed so real, and so glorious, as when the Life was manifested; never had death seemed so real, and so dreadful, as when the Prince of Life died. Yet this death is our life, for, only through death, could life reach us and fill us. Life died, that death might live. Immortality went down into the tomb, to bring up thence for us immortality and incorruption. Thus death became the destroyer of death, and the grave the spoiler of the grave.
Life for the dead! This is our message to the sons of men. This is our gospel; a gospel for the dead, not for the living. It is the gospel of the "manifested life."
You say, perhaps, that it is just your state of death that makes this no gospel to you. Your consciousness of death leads to despondency; and you say, Were I not so dead, I should not despair. Ah! were you not so dead you would not need the life, and would present fewer attractions, as well as fewer necessities, to the living One; there would be less in you to call out the life. You seem to be searching for some sparks of life within you, to attract the life from above. But in so doing you are repelling the very life that you are seeking. You are mistaking the real attraction to the life, and substituting one of your own. You act, on man's maxim, "Like draws to like," instead of upon God's, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;" "He has concluded all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."
The truth is, you did not know how complete was the death in which you lay. You thought there was a little life remaining, and that remnant was your hope; but now that you have become conscious of your total death, that hope has left you. It is well; for it was a false hope, as all hope must ever be, that is founded upon the good, and not on the evil that is in you. But now that this vain confidence has perished, and the last prop of self-righteousness been struck from under you, are you so foolish as to despair? Despair, when hope, true hope, is dawning? Despair, when the only thing that repelled the Life has been taken from you?
It is not your death that repels the Life; it is your fancying that you are not dead! Know what you are; truly dead; and the repulsion ceases, the attraction begins. I am too dead to be quickened, you say. No, you are not. The Life goes down to the lowest depths of death, and there is no region of the soul's dark tomb to which this Life cannot reach, or into which it has not already entered. The danger lies, not in your being too dead– but in your not knowing how thoroughly dead you are. So long as there is the unconsciousness of death, there is a barrier, a non-conducting medium between you and the Life. The Holy Spirit, in revealing to you your true condition of utter death, is throwing down that barrier, and substituting a conducting for a non-conducting medium, that the Life, long shut out, not by the death– but by your refusal to acknowledge that death, may pour in, in its glad fullness, to all the regions of your being; transforming corruption into incorruption, and death into life.
"You will not come to me that you might have life," said this Life, when manifested here. And what do these words mean– but just this, "You will not acknowledge the death that is in yourselves, and the life that is in me." This acknowledgment, this two-fold recognition of the death and the Life, would at once bring you into contact with the living One.
"I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." Yes; he lives; he gives life; no, he is Life, the Life, the Life that was manifested. All this fullness of manifested life is for the sinner– for you! Recognize him as the Life, and immediately his fullness passes over to you; and because he lives you live also.
"This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." His Son is the "manifested life," the "resurrection and the life," and "he that has the Son has life." What say you to this manifested life? Is it nothing to you, or is it all? What have you found in it? What have you extracted from it? Have you read in it the love of God? Have you obtained from it the life of your soul; the supply of your eternal need? Or are you still as much in need of life as if the Life had never been manifested, as if the Word had never been made flesh, as if the Son of God had never come?
But the manifestation of this Life is not yet over. The Life has, as it were, retired for a season, and gone within the veil; but this same Jesus, who came the first time, as the Life, shall come, as such, the second time also; and that day of his manifestation shall be the day of ours as well. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear (lit., 'be manifested,') then shall you also appear (be manifested) with him in glory; for that is "the day of the manifestation of the sons of God." The resurrection of the just is the great day of his revelation, and of ours. Then shall we know the "power of his resurrection," the resurrection of him who is "the resurrection and the life;" for all the fullness of "the Life" shall not be known, until he comes to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all those who believe. The "resurrection unto life" shall be the completion of the great manifestation. As his first coming was its alpha, or beginning, so shall his second coming be its omega, or end. For he comes as the living One, to die no more! He comes to give his church the full benefit of the manifested life. He comes to avenge us of death, to spoil the grave, and to bring up to light his long-buried jewels.
And which of us has not some tie to the tomb? something which makes us long to be avenged of death? I do not mean merely the mortality of these vile bodies, in which death and life are at daily warfare. I mean the dear ones that death has torn from us, and the grave devoured– a parent, a child, a brother, a sister, a beloved friend. The last enemy came to them, and we were powerless. He struck, and we could not ward off the blow. We grudged him his triumph, yet we could not resist. He carried off his prize, our precious ones, in spite of us, before our eyes. But ever since, oh how we have longed for the day of vengeance, when the spoiler shall be spoiled, the grave rifled, and death swallowed up of life. For life, not death, must triumph in the end. The Life is hastening back to us from the heaven where it now is, at the Father's right hand; and at its return the reign of death is over. Life shall be manifested in a way, and to an extent, unknown before. Expelling death alike from soul and body; emptying the grave of each fragment of mortality; glorifying the church with the robe of incorruption and beauty; overflowing creation with its blessed waters; it shall bring to pass the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory;" it shall realize the long-predicted triumph, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death; oh death, I will be your plagues; oh grave, I will be your destruction; repentance shall be hid from my eyes" (Hosea 13:14).