IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE LIVE AGAIN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-2-61 Sunrise Service
The title of the sermon this morning is also the text: the cry of Job in the fourteenth chapter and the fourteenth verse, "If a man die, shall he live again?" [Job 14:14]. Who has not asked that question in dread, or in fear, or in hope, or in suspense, or in sobs and in tears, in crying, in agony? It is a question as old as the first grave [Genesis 4:8-10]. It is a question that has been punctuated and emphasized and underscored by the monuments of men throughout all their generations.
For the great buildings of the earth have been erected over the graves of the dead: the pyramids of ancient Egypt; the mausoleum in Halicarnassus; St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s in Rome, built over the supposed resting places of those two great apostles; the tomb of Napoleon in Paris; Westminster Abbey in London; or the Taj Mahal, the teardrop of love of Shah Jahan in Agra; or the tombs of the emperors in Nara and Kyoto, Japan; not to mention the cryptoriums, and the mausoleums, and the cemeteries, these silent cities of the dead that dot this terrestrial earth wherever mankind has lived.
Neither Goth, nor Vandal, nor Hun, nor Tartar, nor Saracen could have slain so ruthlessly and so mercilessly, with no pity for the poor, and no respect for the aged, and no regard for the true or the good or the beautiful. The cry of Job as he stood at the open grave in which he buried his seven sons and his three daughters [Job 1:18-19], and Job on the ash heap as he faces in despair the sorrowful end of his own life [Job 1:8], cried in the chapter:
Man that is born of woman is a few days, and full of trouble.
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not.
. . .
There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
. . .
Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
But a man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
So man lieth down, and riseth not
. . .
The waters wear the stones away: Thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and Thou destroyest the hope of man.
Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passeth: Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.
His sons come to honor, and he knoweth it not; they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not.
His flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.
If a man die, shall he live again? [Job 14:14].
This cry of the ancient patriarch is the cry of mankind through all of the endless generations. "When the golden bowl is broken, and the silver cord is loosened, when the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern" [Ecclesiastes 12:6], all of us face that inevitable hour of the open grave, of the breaking up of the family, of the dissolution of the circle. And in the darkness, and in the presence of the pale visitor, we peer beyond the darkness of the grave and ask this question of Job, "If we die, if we die, in some other land, in some other world, at some other time, do we live again?" [Job 14:14].
The hope and the persuasion of the immortality of the soul is as old as man himself. It is a hope that never fades and never dies. As far back in antiquity as history records, there has lived undying this hope in the heart of mankind that somewhere, somehow, sometime we shall live in a better world and shall share a better life. It is universal; it never dies.
The most exhaustive study that has come down to us from antiquity is that of Cicero, who concluded his long essay with the sentence, "Immortality of the soul is an established belief of all peoples." When the hieroglyphic writings of Egypt were deciphered, they spoke of the far away hope and home of the soul. When the cuneiform inscriptions of the ancient Chaldeans were understood, they spake of that better land and that better life. The song of Homer and the inspiration of the Iliad by Virgil is somewhere there is a better climb and a better world. The Gaelic warrior was buried with his armor. And the painted Indian was buried with his bow and his arrow; they were going to some happy hunting ground known but to the great Spirit of God. There’s no lowest tribe in Africa, not even the degraded Patagonians in South America, nowhere in the earth has there ever been or now lives a tribe that does not hold, however fettered the mind in darkness and superstition, this blessed hope of a better life and a better world.
Nor has all of the rational arguments of philosophers been able to destroy this undying prospect out of the hearts of men. Jean Paul Richter, in the eighteenth century German skeptic and philosopher wrote:
I have traversed the worlds, I have risen to the suns, I have pressed to thwart the great waste places of the sky, I have descended to the place where the very shadow cast by being dies out and ends. We are orphans, you and I. Every soul in this vast corpse trench of a universe is utterly alone.
And I quote one other from Bertrand Russell: his eloquent statement of unbelief in his famous essay "The Free Man’s Worship," Bertrand Russell says:
That man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, and beliefs are but the outcome of the accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extension in the vast death of the solar system; and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. All these things, if not beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built.
These are the words of the speculator, and the philosopher, and the metaphysician, and the skeptic, and the unbeliever; learned, and brilliant, and able men. And yet, and yet, after all they have said, and all of the arguments they have marshaled against this undying hope of the human heart, it still lives and it still abides. Somehow the burdened spirit of man reaches out for an ultimate goal, an ultimate heaven, for God Himself. And life without that hope is like an arch standing on one pillar. It’s like a bridge halfway cut off in the midst of a vast chasm below.
But where is any certain word, any authentic revelation that there is any life, any immortality beyond this open grave? One of the most pathetic sentences in all literature is this that I have copied from Socrates, as he stood in the presence of death and said:
Oh, oh, that there were some divine word upon which we could more securely and less perilously sail upon a stronger vessel. The true soul standing on the shores of the ultimate sea, scanning the vast waste of the mysterious waters, and fancying that it discerns somewhere in the dim distance the golden isles; but is yet not filled with the assurance so as to lift anchor and to sail into the deep.
Intimations of immortality may be beautiful in poetry, but aesthetic fancies do not suffice. When the house is darkened and the baffled physician gives up in despair, intimations and probabilities are not enough. When the shadow of death falls across the path of our life, nor a poet, nor a naturalist, nor a philosopher can help in that dark and grievous hour. But where is that certain word? Where is that final and assured revelation?
For us to wade through the stories of natural religion and through the speculations and philosophies of mankind is a sterile and a barren waste. Even the Old Testament, even the Old Testament is shadowed and veiled with no certain vision and no sure delineation. "Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" [Genesis 5:24]; but they didn’t know where or how. Elijah was caught up in whirlwind into heaven [2 Kings 2:11]; but somehow they couldn’t explain. Samuel talked to Saul from the dead [1 Samuel 28:11-20]; but the story was left in the darkness of the house of the witch at Endor [1 Samuel 28:7-8]. And the prophet Daniel spoke of the resurrection of the just and the unjust; but his prophecy was sealed until the appointed time [Daniel 12:2-4].
Even the patriarchs and the prophets looked ahead through the centuries into the dim distance and saw afar and prophesied that someday there would come to the human heart and to mankind the light of a new day, and the glory of an assured hope. "Abraham rejoiced to see that day; and he saw it, and was glad" [John 8:56]. And Job in his despair and in his agony said, "I know, I know that somewhere my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand upon the earth; and though worms through this body destroy my flesh, yet in my flesh shall I see God" [Job 19:25-26].
And upon a day, and upon a time, in the elective purpose of God for His people, there came the incomparably glad and precious Easter announcement: "Come, come, come, see the place where He lay. He is not here; He is risen from the dead!" [Matthew 28:5-7]. That is the sublimest announcement that was ever made to human ear. That is the most celestial song that heart could ever sing. This is the word from angels’ lips; this is the sunrise after the dark night.
This is the assurance of the undying hope of mankind since the dawn of creation. "He is alive. He is not here [Matthew 28:6],and when they yet believed not, for joy He said, Handle Me, and see that it is I Myself. For a spirit hath not flesh and bone, such as you see Me have." And He said, "Have you anything here to eat? They gave Him a piece of a fish, and of a broiled honeycomb, and He did eat before them" [Luke 24:39-43]; the same Lord, with the stigmata in His hands and His feet, and with the scar in His side, alive, alive, raised from the dead!
The old image of death was the River Styx; the shades and shadows of sheol, the skull and the crossbones. The old image of death was the darkened room and the black hearse, the robes of the night, and plumes plucked from the wings of gloom. But with one great mighty blow, Jesus Christ shattered all that! As Paul triumphantly said, in 2 Timothy 1:10, "He hath abolished death, abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light!"
The image of our dying and our dead is not an empty tomb. It is the sunrise of an Easter morning. It is the beautiful flower resurrected from the earth. It is the song of glory and the hymns of triumph and of praise! This is the great authentication of the Christian message. This is the great appeal and hope of the Christian faith. And this is its power in the conversion and winning of the world.
Our ancestors were converted to Christ, our ancestors, yours and mine, our ancestors were converted to Christ by the preaching of the hope of the resurrection in Christ from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:1-58]. Paulinus – the missionary, in 623 AD – went to our people who lived in paganism and in heathenism, and there in the kingdom of Northumbria; the Angles who later were called the Englanders, whose language is our language, and whose home is the home of our forefathers, Paulinus the missionary came and preached in the court of King Edwin, to his counselors and to his warriors. And as the missionary stood there, he preached the same gospel that Simon Peter preached at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40]. He preached to King Edwin, and to his counselors, and to his warriors in Northumbria, in England. In that long ago day; he preached the hope of the resurrection in Jesus Christ; and after he had done preaching, King Edwin sat silent.
And now the Venerable Bede, our first historian – as Herodotus was the first Greek historian, our first historian, the Venerable Bede – has one of the greatest passages in all literature: it happened only fifty years before Bede lived, and it happened in Northumbria, where Bede was born. After Paulinus had preached the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:1-58], and had made his final appeal to King Edwin, and his counselors and his warriors, there was a stillness and a silence as the king sat on his throne, having heard the gospel of the Son of God. And eventually and finally, after a long stillness, one of the aged sages of King Edwin arose, and he said, "Around us lies the black land of night." Then he continued:
Athwart the room a sparrow
Darts from the open door:
Within the happy hearth-light
One flash and – then no more!
We see it come from darkness,
And into darkness go! –
So is our life, King Edwin!
Alas that it is so!
But, but, if this pale Paulinus
Has somewhat more to tell;
Some news of Whence and Whither,
And where the soul will dwell; –
If on that outer darkness
The sun of hope may shine; –
He makes life worth the living!
I take his God for mine!
["Edwin And Paulinus," anonymous]
And King Edwin arose from his throne, and knelt in the presence of the great God and our Savior; and his counselors knelt by his side and his warriors gathered around him, and that’s where England became Christian. And that’s where our forefathers turned in faith to Christ.
The hope of the resurrection in our risen and reigning Lord, for Christ is the King even over death; "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" [John 11:25]. He could speak the word and the daughter of Jairus rise from the dead [Mark 5:22-28, 41-42]. He could speak the word and the son of the widow of Nain rise from the dead! [Luke 7:11-15]. He could speak the word and Lazarus rise from the dead! [John 11:43-44]. And He entered into the very domain of death itself, and there broke death’s bonds forever! And triumphant and alive and risen, He said, "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and I have the keys of Hell and of Death" [Revelation 1:18].
Our Lord is the King over Satan, and over sin, and over the gloom of the grave, and over the darkness of death. And when we place our hands, our hearts and our lives in His hands there is nothing that awaits for the Christian believer but life, and glory, and immortality, and heaven; for in Christ death is now a being with Jesus. "Today shalt Thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. Absent from the body, present with the Lord" [2 Corinthians 5:8]. To the Christian now death is nothing but a home going, an entrance into glory and into heaven.
I received a letter from my mother – in the pastorate before I came to Dallas – and in that letter she said, "Your father can work no longer. Age has made it impossible for him to continue. He sold the shop, and our home is now up for sale. And we’re going to California to retire."
The next day after I received that letter was Sunday; and in the church service there was a Wycliffe missionary who drew a picture. On the left side, he drew an old home, and put in front of it a sign, "For Sale." By the side of the home he drew a road. And at the top of the hill he drew the picture of an old couple with their faces turned toward the setting sun. And then, and then, the artist in the sky above and beyond drew a picture of the celestial city of heaven, with its turreted spires reaching up, with the balustrades and battlements of the beautiful jasper walls, and with the light and the glory of the presence of God upon it. Not long after that my father entered into that celestial home.
This, this is death for the Christian: no longer the despair, and the agony, and the emptiness of the grave, but the light, and the glory, and the hope, and the heaven, and the house God hath prepared without hands, and the mansion in the sky [2 Corinthians 5:1]. He has turned our despair into victory, our night into day, and our gloom into the praises of His glory. The great Christian hymns are those that sing of our triumph beyond the days of this earthly life and this weary pilgrimage:
My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run;
My strongest trials now are passed, my triumph is begun.
O come angel band, come and around me stand;
O bare me away on your snowy wings, to my immortal home.
O precious cross, O glorious crown, O resurrection day;
Ye angels from the stars come down, and bear my soul away.
["My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast"; J. W. Dadmun, 1860]
These are the hymns of the church of God. These are the songs of the Christian faith and the Christian hope. This is sunrise. This is the angels’ message. This is the dawn of the new day. This is Easter, Christ is risen [Matthew 28:1-7]. He has taken the sting away from death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], and the gloom, and judgment, and night of the grave. And nothing remains for the child of God but light, and glory, and heaven, and home.
"Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of a man, what God hath prepared for those who love Him" [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Here disease, and age, and death; there, "and there is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither is there anymore pain; for the former things are all passed away" [Revelation 21:4]. Here need and want, the burning of fever, and the chill of the cold; there the soul’s summer land. Here, our understanding and reason is but a spark; there it bursts into a flame. Here our praise and our song is but a note; there it bursts into an oratorio and a symphony. Here the tree ripens in fruit but once a year; there every month, "and the leaves are for the healing of the nations" [Revelation 22:2]. Here we drink at broken cisterns; there we kneel at the brink of the river of the water of life [Revelation22:1], where we shall live in God’s presence and in the praise of the light of His glory forever and ever, world without end [John 17:24].
"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst, come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely" [Revelation 22:17]. This is Easter. This is the Christian faith. This is the incomparable hope. This is the blessed assurance. This is the life that can never die. This is the Christian way. And we offer, in Christ’s name, as an ambassador from His court, we offer that incomparable hope and that precious blessing to you today.
May I make this appeal, and like this? We’re going to close the service after this appeal with Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus." Don’t anybody leave to go home yet. Stay for this final, and concluded, and consummating, and incomparably glorious hallelujah. I’ve said that because in order for some of you to come down to the front, to give your heart to Jesus, to reconsecrate your life to the Lord, or to come into the fellowship of His church, you have to go outside – all of you in this vast arena round – you have to go outside and come in.
Each one of these exits, each one of these exits leads to a ramp outside. And when you go down that ramp, each one of these exits leads to that ramp, when you go down that ramp outside, you’re on the lower floor. Then come in either one of the entrances on the lower floor and come down and give your hand to the pastor and give your heart in faith, and in praise, and in love, and in devotion, and in trust, and in assurance, give your heart to God.
In the great throng of an audience like this, there are many who ought to come, and who will come. Out one of these exits, and down one of those ramps, then you’re on the lower floor, then come down and give your hand to the pastor, and give your heart to God. You don’t have to join our First Baptist Church; you can go to any church, any church. Just that today you give your heart in faith and in trust to Jesus, that today you put your life in the fellowship of a church. If it could be ours, we’d be so grateful. If it is some other, God bless you in the way. And if for any reason, one somebody you, or a family you, would like to come, come and give the pastor your hand, we’ll have this prayer of dedication and consecration down here at the front. And then, and then, we’ll all stand for this incomparable praise to the glory of Jesus who lives forever and ever, hallelujah, hallelujah, Amen!
Now we’re going to sing our song just out of our hearts, "Just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come." And while we sing the hymn, all through this vast audience, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord, or put your life in the church. Or by reconsecration, renewing an avowal that you’ve made in days passed to Jesus, you come and give your hand to the pastor and remain down here at the front. On the first note of the first stanza, into one of those aisles, down one of those ramps; or on the lower floor, into an aisle and down here to the front, will you come? Will you make it now? Will you make it this glorious Easter morning hour while we prayerfully, earnestly, all together stand and sing?
IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE LIVE AGAIN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
The question of the ages
The bedrock of religion and faith
I. If we live in this life only, we are of all men most miserable
1. Christ is dead and not risen
2. Our preaching vain, our labor useless
3. Our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins
4. They which have fallen asleep in Christ have perished
II. If we live beyond death, we are of all men most blessed
1. Death destroyed, swallowed up in victory
2. Christ is risen and we shall be like Him
3. Heaven, the glory of the faith is ours
4. No labor for the Lord is vain