I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Horatius Bonar (1808–1889)
This is not my place of resting,
Mine’s a city yet to come;
Onward to it I am hasting—
On to my eternal home.
In it all is light and glory,
O’er it shines a nightless day;
Every trace of sin’s sad story,
All the curse, has passed away.
There the Lamb, our Shepherd, leads us,
By the streams of life along;
On the freshest pastures feeds us,
Turns our sighing into song.
Soon we pass this desert dreary,
Soon we bid farewell to pain;
Never more be sad or weary,
Never, never sin again.
—Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, First Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878).
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. 25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
The passage before us is singularly rich in weighty truths. To the minds of Jews, who were familiar with the writings of Moses and Daniel, it would come home with peculiar power. In the words of our Lord they would not fail to see fresh assertions of His claim to be received as the promised Messiah.
We see in these verses that the salvation of our soul depends on hearing Christ. It is the man, we are told, who “hears Christ’s word,” and believes that God the Father sent Him to save sinners, who “has everlasting life.” Such “hearing” of course is something more than mere listening. It is hearing as a humble learner,—hearing as an obedient disciple,—hearing with faith and love,—hearing with a heart ready to do Christ’s will,—this is the hearing that saves. It is the very hearing of which God spoke in the famous prediction of a “prophet like unto Moses:”—“Unto him shall you hearken.”—“Whoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deut. xviii. 15—19.)
To “hear” Christ in this way, we must never forget, is just as needful now as it was eighteen hundred years ago. It is not enough to hear sermons, and run after preachers, though some people seem to think this makes up the whole of religion. We must go much further than this,—we must “hear Christ.” To submit our hearts to Christ’s teaching,—to sit humbly at His feet by faith, and learn of Him,—to enter His school as penitents, and become His believing scholars,—to hear His voice and follow Him,—this is the way to heaven. Until we know something experimentally of these things, there is no life in us.
We see, secondly, in these verses, how rich and full are the privileges of the true hearer and believer. Such a man enjoys a present salvation. Even now, at this present time, he “hath everlasting life.”—Such a man is completely justified and forgiven. There remains no more condemnation for him. His sins are put away. “He shall not come into condemnation.”—Such a man is in an entirely new position before God. He is like one who has moved from one side of a gulf to another: “He has passed from death unto life.”
The privileges of a true Christian are greatly underrated by many. Chiefly from deplorable ignorance of Scripture, they have little idea of the spiritual treasures of every believer in Jesus. These treasures are brought together here in beautiful order, if we will only look at them. One of a true Christian’s treasures is the “presentness” of his salvation. It is not a far distant thing which he is to have at last, if he does his duty and is good. It is his own in title the moment he believes. He is already pardoned, forgiven, and saved, though not in heaven.—Another of a true Christian’s treasures is the “completeness” of his justification. His sins are entirely removed, taken away, and blotted out of God’s book, by Christ’s blood. He may look forward to judgment without fear, and say, “who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. viii. 34.) He shall stand without fault before the throne of God.—The last, but not the least, of a true Christian’s treasures, is the entire change in his relation and position toward God. He is no longer as one dead before Him,—dead, legally, like a man sentenced to die, and dead in heart. He is “alive unto God.” (Rom. vi. 11.) “He is a new creature. Old things are passed away, and all things are become new.” (2 Cor. v. 17.) Well would it be for Christians if these things were better known! It is lack of knowledge, in many cases, that is the secret of want of peace.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, a striking declaration of Christ’s power to give life to dead souls. Our Lord tells us that “the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.” It seems most unlikely that these words were meant to be confined to the rising of men’s bodies, and were fulfilled by such miracles as that of raising Lazarus from the grave. It appears far more probable that what our Lord had in view was the quickening of souls, the resurrection of conversion. (Ephes. ii. 1.; Colos. ii. 13.)
The words were fulfilled in not a few cases, during our Lord’s own ministry. They were fulfilled far more completely after the day of Pentecost, through the ministry of the Apostles. The myriads of converts at Jerusalem, at Antioch, at Ephesus, at Corinth, and elsewhere, were all examples of their fulfillment. In all these cases, “the voice of the Son of God” awakened dead hearts to spiritual life, and made them feel their need of salvation, repent, and believe.—They are fulfilled at this very day, in every instance of true conversion. Whenever any men or women among ourselves awaken to a sense of their soul’s value, and become alive to God, the words are made good before our eyes. It is Christ who has spoken to their hearts by His Spirit. It is “the dead hearing Christ’s voice, and living.”
We see, lastly, in these verses, a most solemn prophecy of the final resurrection of all the dead. Our Lord tells us that “the hour is coming when all that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation.”
The passage is one of those that ought to sink down very deeply into our hearts, and never be forgotten. All is not over when men die. Whether they like it or not, they will have to come forth from their graves at the last day, and to stand at Christ’s judgment bar. None can escape His summons. When His voice calls them before Him, all must obey.—When men rise again, they will not all rise in the same condition. There will be two classes,—two parties—two bodies. Not all will go to heaven. Not all will be saved. Some will rise again to inherit eternal life, but some will rise again only to be condemned. These are alarming things! But the words of Christ are plain and unmistakable. Thus it is written, and thus it must be.
Let us make sure that we hear Christ’s quickening voice now, and are numbered among His true disciples. Let us know the privileges of true believers, while we have life and health. Then, when His voice shakes heaven and earth, and is calling the dead from their graves, we shall feel confidence, and not be “ashamed before Him at his coming.” (1 John ii. 28.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.