Immortality Sermon Illustrations

Immortality Sermon Illustrations

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A few days before his death Thomas Jefferson told his dear daughter Martha that in a certain drawer, in an old pocketbook, she would find something for her. It was a piece of paper on which he had written eight lines, "A Death-Bed Adieu to Martha Jefferson from Thomas Jefferson." These lines had in them no classical reference or philosophical speculation, but the simple statement of his hope that on the shore "which crowns all my hopes, or which buries my care, I will find awaiting me two seraphs, long shrouded in death." The two to whom he referred were his wife and his daughter Maria.

The hope expressed by Jefferson as he was about to enter the unknown world is the hope of normal man. Just as man does his work and makes his plans with the expectation, although not the proof, that the sun will rise tomorrow, so we live in the general expectation of life beyond the grave. We hope that after the sunset here today there will be daybreak elsewhere. It would be a poor life, indeed, if through the cypress trees we could not catch a glimpse of the shining stars of hope.

The Russian novelist Dostoevski in his famous story The Brothers Karamazov makes his characters discuss the subject of the life to come. Dmitri says, "Is that really your conviction as to thee consequences of the disappearance of the faith in immortality?"

"Yes," answered Ivan, "that was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality."

The same idea is expressed by Renan in his History of the People of Israel. "Let us not deceive ourselves," he says; "man is governed by nothing but his conception of the future. Any nation which en masse gives up all faith in what lies beyond the grave will become utterly degraded. An individual may do great things, and yet not believe in immortality. But those around him must believe it, for him and for themselves."

James Bryce has an impressive passage in which he describes a great American city and wonders what would be the effect upon its life and manners if all who dwell there should lose all interest in and all faith in a life to come. "Would men," he asks, "say, 'Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die' [I Cor. 15:32], or would custom and sympathy, and a perception of the advantages which stable government offers to citizens as a whole, and which orderly self-restraint offers to each one, replace supernatural sanctions and hold in check the violence of the masses and the self-indulgent impulses of the individual? History, if she cannot give a complete answer to this question, tells us that hitherto civilized society has rested on religion, and that free government has prospered best among religious peoples."

In the conclusion of his famous work of the seventeenth century, The Saints' Everlasting Rest, Richard Baxter, a master of English prose, has a beautiful passage in which he speaks of the influence of the heavenly mind upon man's life in the midst of the trials of this world: "Thou wilt be as one that stands on the top of an exceeding high mountain; he looks down on the world as if it were quite below him; fields and woods, cities and towns, seem to him as but little spots. Thus despicably wilt thou look on all things here below. The greatest princes will seem but as grasshoppers; the busy, contentious, covetous world, but as a heap of ants. Man's threatenings will be no terror to thee; nor the honours of this world any strong enticement; temptations will be more harmless, as having lost their strength; and afflictions less grievous, as having lost their sting; and every mercy will be better known and relished."

Huxley somewhere protests against the great words of Paul read by an English rector at the funeral of his child: "If the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die" (I Cor. 15:32). He took the position that even if there is no after life, there is opportunity for nobility in this life. But as a matter of fact Paul is right, and Huxley is wrong. The very idea of nobility in this life is a by-product of the world's faith in life to come. If this life is all, then, "eat, drink, and be merry"; get the most you can out of it, in that animal, sensual way, for diat is your real existence. But if this life is the training place for another life, then the wise man will live not for time but for eternity.

Danton, a leader of the French Revolution, on his way to the guillotine, said to his companions on the scaffold, "Our heads will meet in yonder sack." That is the outlook on life if there is no resurrection of the dead. But because Christ is risen, and because the dead rise, the Christian believer as he lays the body of his beloved in the grave can say, "Our souls will meet in yonder heaven."

When Columbus was sailing toward the unknown continents of the west, he saw, floating in the sea, leaves and branches which told him he was drawing near another world; and in that faith he sailed ever on, until the sands of the Bahamas shone white in the moonlight. The tides, the winds, and the waves carry man, the "lonely and sublime Columbus of creation," across the ocean of existence. He cannot see the land toward which he is going, nor is he permitted to speak to any ship that has sailed thither; for they who have reached that land return no more. But in the affections and longing of his heart, in the instincts of his being, in the processes of nature that serve as a picture of what it might be like to live and die again, and in the too-evident brevity and incompleteness of earthly existence, he can see portents and intimations, reminding him that the sea of life washes the shores of eternity.

A woman in Germany, who had no faith in immortality, in keeping with her convictions and unbelief caused herself to be buried in a sepulcher of heavy masonry covered with a heavy stone slab, on which was inscribed her declaration that for her this was the end. But in some way a seed found lodgment in the mortar and, feeding upon her body, grew to be a tree that burst asunder her stone coffin. In like manner man's instinct bursts asunder the stone coffin of doubts and arguments with which it sought to deny the fact and hope of immortality.

Among the essays of Bacon there is one called "Of Fame." It is only a fragment. At the end of the essay one can read in brackets, "The rest was not finished." How true that is of man and his works in this world!

Thomas Chalmers said, "Man feels an interminable longing after nobler and higher things which naught but immortality and the greatness of immortality can satiate."

Toward the end of his life—on his seventieth birthday—Victor Hugo wrote: "Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. The nearer I approach the end, the plainer I hear around me the immortal symphonies of the worlds which invite me. For half a century I have been writing my thoughts in prose, verse, history, philosophy, drama, romance, tradition, satire, ode, song—I have tried all. But I feel that I have not said the thousandth part of what is in me."

Or, to quote the words of the eloquent French preacher Saurin, "Such is my soul. But where is it lodged? It inhabits a world of vanity and nothingness. I can discover no object capable of filling my capacious desires. I ascend the thrones of sovereigns; I descend into the beggar's dust; I walk the palaces of princes, I lodge in the peasant's cabin; I retire into the closet to be wise; I avoid recollection, choose ignorance and increase the crowd of idiots; I live in solitude; I rush into the social multitude; but everywhere I find a mortifying void. In all these places there is nothing satisfactory." Since God has put eternity in man's heart, the world can never satisfy him. Only the greatness of immortality can meet the hunger of man's soul.

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