Finally, in the third place: no reflection of the “reason,” no deliberation of the “intelligence,” will ever be able to expunge from the moral ideas of mankind the conviction that injustice and sin deserve to be punished, and that everywhere that the just man suffers, an atonement is made which puts us to shame and purifies us. It is a conviction which is impenetrable, for it comes out of those depths in which we feel ourselves to be a unity, and out of the world which lies behind the world of phenomena. Mocked and denied as though it had long perished, this truth is indestructibly preserved in the moral experience of mankind. These are the ideas which from the beginning onwards have been roused by Christ’s death, and have, as it were, played around it. Other ideas have been disengaged— ideas of less importance but, nevertheless, very efficacious at times—but these are the most powerful. They have taken shape in the firm conviction that by his death in suffering he did a definitive work; that he did it “for us.” Were we to attempt to measure and register what he did, as was soon attempted, we should fall into dreadful paradoxes; but we can in our turn feel it for ourselves with the same freedom with which it was originally felt. If we also consider that Jesus himself described his death as a service which he was rendering to many, and that by a solemn act he instituted a lasting remembrance of it—I see no reason to doubt the fact—we can understand how this death and the shame of the cross were bound to take the central place.
Jesus, however, was proclaimed as “the Lord” not only because he had died for sinners but because he was the risen and the living one. If the resurrection meant nothing but that a deceased body of flesh and blood came to life again, we should make short work of this tradition.. But it is not so. The New Testament itself distinguishes between the Easter message of the empty grave and the appearances of Jesus on the one side, and the Easter faith on the other. Although the greatest value is attached to that message, we are to hold the Easter faith even in its absence. The story of Thomas is told for the exclusive purpose of impressing upon us that we must hold the Easter faith even without the Easter message: “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” The disciples on the road to Emmaus were blamed for not believing in the resurrection even though the Easter message had not yet reached them. The Lord is a Spirit, says Paul; and this carries with it the certainty of his resurrection. The Easter message tells us of that wonderful event in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden, which, however, no eye saw; it tells us of the empty grave into which a few women and disciples looked; of the appearance of the Lord in a transfigured form—so glorified that his own could not immediately recognise him; it soon begins to tell us, too, of what the risen one said and did. The reports became more and more complete, and more and more confident. But the Easter faith is the conviction that the crucified one gained a victory over death; that God is just and powerful; that he who is the firstborn among many brethren still lives. Paul based his Easter faith upon the certainty that “the second Adam” was from heaven, and upon his experience, on the way to Damascus, of God revealing His Son to him as still alive. God, he said, revealed him “in me”; but this inner revelation was coupled with “a vision” overwhelming as vision never was afterwards. Did the apostle know of the message about the empty grave? While there are theologians of note who doubt it, I think it probable; but we cannot be quite certain about it. Certain it is that what he and the disciples regarded as all-important was not the state in which the grave was found but Christ’s appearances. But who of us can maintain that a clear account of these appearances can be constructed out of the stories told by Paul and the evangelists; and if that be impossible, and there is no tradition of single events which is quite trustworthy, how is the Easter faith to be based on them? Either we must decide to rest our belief on a foundation unstable and always exposed to fresh doubts, or else we must abandon thi3 foundation altogether, and with it the miraculous appeal to our senses. But here, too, the images of the faith have their roots in truth and reality. Whatever may have happened at the grave and in the matter of the appearances, one thing is certain: This grave was the birthplace of the indestructible belief that death is vanquished, that there is a life eternal. It is useless to cite Plato; it is useless to point to the Persian religion, and the ideas and the literature of later Judaism. All that would have perished and has perished; but the certainty of the resurrection and of a life eternal which is bound up with the grave in Joseph’s garden has not perished, and on the conviction that Jesus lives we still base those hopes of citizenship in an Eternal City which make our earthly life worth living and tolerable. “He delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage,” as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews confesses. That is the point. And although there be exceptions to its sway, wherever, despite all the weight of nature, there is a strong faith in the infinite value of the soul; wherever death has lost its terrors; wherever the sufferings of the present are measured against a future of glory, this feeling of life is bound up with the conviction that Jesus Christ has passed through death, that God has awakened him and raised him to life and glory. What else can we believe but that the earliest disciples also found the ultimate foundation of their faith in the living Lord to be the strength which had gone out from him? It was a life never to be destroyed which they felt to be going out from him; only for a brief span of time could his death stagger them; the strength of the Lord prevailed over everything; God did not give him over to death; he lives as the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. It is not by any speculative ideas of philosophy but by the vision of Jesus’ life and death and by the feeling of his imperishable union with God that mankind, so far as it believes in these things, has attained to that certainty of eternal life for which it was meant, and which it dimly discerns—eternal life in time and beyond time. This feeling first established faith in the value of personal life. But of every attempt to demonstrate the certainty of ‘.’ immortality” by logical process, we may say in the words of the poet: