The Practice of Immortality
J. R. Miller, 1909
Nearly everybody believes in immortality, although not everyone is enthusiastic over the subject. Not long ago, when a distinguished man was asked if he believed in personal immortality, he is said to have answered: "Yes, I cannot help believing in it. Everything points to it. But I do not want it." He does not accept the Christian faith, and yet he believes that man is immortal. But the belief has no comfort for him. He does not want to live forever. Immortality, however, is not merely continuance of life forever—that alone might give no joy. Some lives have been so sad here, that the thought of living ten thousand years in the same way would be intolerable!
There is a story of one who prayed that he might never die—but forgot to pray that he might not grow old. His prayer was granted, and he lived on century after century, becoming more and more feeble continually, all the infirmities of age increasing in their burdensomeness, until he prayed to die! Mere prolonged life would not be a blessing. We must die to attain an immortality of blessedness. "For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true—Death has been swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:53-54
But immortality ought to have a meaning for us now while we are in this world. We say we are immortal—how then should an immortal man or woman live here and now? We have the answer suggested in one of Paul's epistles. The writer is speaking of Christ's resurrection, and he says that believers are risen too, in Christ. Then he adds, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ—set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above—not on earthly things!" Colossians 3:1-2
That is, you are risen with Christ. You have not gone to heaven with him yet. He has left you here for a while. You have a work to do in this world for him, and there is also a work to be done in you before you will be ready for heaven. But you are to remember that you are now risen with Christ, and are now living the resurrection life. What sort of a life ought that to be? The question is not, "What sort of a life will you live when you get to heaven?" but "What kind of a life should you live right here, right now, in the present world?"
When Jesus was speaking of eternal life which those who believed should enter into, he said, "He who hears my word, and believes him that sent me—has eternal life." He did not say, "He will have eternal life when he enters heaven," but he "has it," that is, from the moment he believes. He is not to wait until he reaches heaven—before he begins to live his eternal life. He is on the earth yet, and cannot get away from his earthly relations. He must take up his tasks, he must do his duties—having eternal life does not release him from these. He is to practice eternal life now and continually.
If you die tonight, being a child of God—you will enter at once upon the heavenly life. We do not know just what the heavenly life is—but we do know that it is loving, unselfish, holy, without sin. It is joyous. It is contented. We cannot think of anyone in heaven being unhappy, discontented, fretful. Nobody there grumbles, complains, is a murmurer. Nobody in heaven ever worries. When you die and go to heaven—you will begin at once to live as other people in heaven live. You will find it easy to fall into the heavenly habits. Heaven is a holy place. Nobody sins there, nobody lies, nobody gets angry, nobody does a mean thing, nobody speaks evil of another. If you die tonight and go to heaven—you will begin to live tomorrow morning the heavenly life.
But if you do not die tonight—but stay in this world longer—living the eternal life will mean that you shall rise tomorrow morning and live that life here, wherever you may be, and live it just as you would do if you had died and lived now in heaven!
In the story of our Lord's last night with his disciples, we have this remarkable statement, "Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God. So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him." John 13:3-5. He knew the glorious being he was, that he was the Son of God, divine—and yet, with this consciousness fully in his mind, he performed the lowliest service for his disciples that any man could do for others.
You know that you are risen with Christ, that you are immortal, that you have eternal life; now what are fit things for one to do who knows that there is such glory, such splendor in his life?
First of all, no service of love is beneath him. His life should be devoted to the sweetest, most helpful ministries of kindness that his hand can find to do.
John the Baptist, in the gloom of his dungeon at Machaerus, began to wonder if after all Jesus was the Messiah, and sent some of his disciples to ask him. When the men came, Jesus did not enter upon a set program to show his deity—he just went on with his everyday work of kindness and then told the men to go back to their master and tell him what they had seen and heard—-the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good tidings preached unto them. These were the truest and best evidences of Messiahship. That is the way the man who knew he was the Son of God—lived his common days.
For another thing, Jesus, knowing his divine glory, did not separate himself from other people—to show that he was not an ordinary man. He did not live in a way that would demonstrate to the world his divine character in unearthly ways. He took his place among working-men. He was a carpenter, and for eighteen years wrought at his lowly trade. It scarcely seems to us quite fitting that the Son of God should be a carpenter—but there was nothing undivine in that. It left no dishonor on him, and indeed it made his glory all the more radiant. In all his earthly life—we see in Jesus his divine life. He was always practicing immortality, living eternal life.
This practice of immortality suggests to us how we may live the heavenly life here. We may not do it in any strained or unnatural efforts at holiness or heavenliness—but by doing the will of God in the simplest way, which will always mean the common tasks and duties of the days as they come to us. The heavenliest life we can live here—will be the one that will best fulfill our common duties in our natural relationships.
We, too, may live the resurrection life in the shop, at a trade, in the kitchen, in any lowly work or calling. Doing the will of God wherever we may be—is the immortal life.
The Apocryphal Gospels are a number of stories about Jesus written by men who thought that a divine being never should do anything natural or common. So they invented stories of childish miracles that they said he did when he was a boy.
The true Gospels show Jesus like other children in His childhood, without anything fantastic, finding his Father's business in being a dutiful son, living a sweet, sinless life, doing no miracle, and working at the carpenter's trade. Then, even the greatest miracles in His public life—were never unnatural, or showy—but simple deeds of love. You may learn from your Master—that eternal life in this world is a life of kindness, gentleness, usefulness, unselfishness.
Holiness is not dignity which is above noticing the poor; or greatness that cannot condescend to the lowliest person or the most menial service that is needful. Centuries ago Aristotle said, "Live as nearly as you can the immortal life." This is wise and lofty counsel.
There is a book called "The Practice of the Presence of God." The title is suggestive. As a Christian, you believe that the presence of God is always with you, that you never can get where God is not. Practice that! Act as if you fully believed it, realized it.
You could not do an sinful thing, nor say an evil word, nor think an unholy thought—if you saw Christ beside you! You know that he IS beside you—practice his presence. You will find wondrous power in this practice—power of restraint, of inspiration, of transformation. That is what true religion is.
When the disciples had been on the Mount of Transfiguration for a short time—they wanted to stay there always and continue the transfiguration companionship and glory. But they could not do this—they had to return to the struggles and temptations of the lower world. We, too, have our transfiguration visions—but they come only to give us new assurance and strength. We have to return again at once to our work and our daily life of care. But the Master wants us always to live the transfiguration life, to live every moment—as if the holy vision were shining before our eyes! We cannot always be at the Holy Communion—but we are to carry the communion act and spirit with us when we go back to our homes, to our place of business, to our offices and shops and farms. We are to live the immortal life wherever we go.
Perhaps we ought to think more of the glory of our lives. We do not think half enough of what we have and are in Christ—of our greatness, of the glory of our being, of the divineness of our destiny. It is not self-conceit in which we are deficient—there is enough of that hateful thing in the most of us—not self-conceit—but what we have and are in Christ. Perhaps the greatness of this—is not often enough impressed upon us. We are not accustomed to think of the splendor of our nature. We were made in the image of God. The old Psalm says that "Man was made only a little lower than the angels." The Revised Version changes this, however, and makes it read, "but little lower than God." Jesus said that a man's soul is worth more than this whole great world, and that anyone, even the lowliest, would make a bad bargain if he sold his soul—for the whole world.
Now what are you doing with this glorious life of yours? The beloved disciple in one of his letters says, "Beloved, now are we children of God." That is the first glory. That surely is great glory. But there is more of the honor. It is not yet made manifest clearly and fully—what we shall be—the future is veiled in mystery—but "we shall be like him"—that is the final glory. We shall be like Christ in our heavenly life. Then the writer tells us how we should live in this world—if this is to be our future distinction. "Everyone who has this hope set on Him—purifies himself, even as He is pure."
It is pitiful how men throw away their crowns. Made only a little lower than God, children of God, destined to be like Christ at length—they yield to appetite, lust, and passion, and debase themselves in the dust! With this glory set before us, we should keep ourselves pure and our lives white, and should strive even here to reach up to the honor that is prepared for us!