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What Is the Gospel
1 Corinthians 15:1
I. A Gospel of Mercy. It is a Gospel of mercy. There are three points about it.
(a) Its efficacy. 'The Gospel which ye have received, and wherein ye stand.' The first Christians received this great message of God's truth as coming not from man. It was not St Paul's Gospel; he merely handed it on. It could not be improved by his own witness. This message the people received, and on the strength and truth of this message they stood. So the Christian today first receives this message unto himself, and then stands upon it as upon a foundation. That upon which we trust is not within us but outside of us. 'By which also ye are being saved.' If we treasure the Gospel we shall find it a source of ever necessary salvation. Remember that the Bible never tells us for a moment that our salvation is completed. It is going on all the time we are here. God wants to save us not only from the past consequences, but from the daily contamination of sin. We are never really saved until body and soul are in their glorified state in heaven, temptation and sorrow are put away, and we live in an atmosphere where there is nothing to prevent the growth of holiness.
(b) Its simplicity. There are three chief points in the Gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. The death of Christ is of supreme importance. He came into the world in order that He might offer that mysterious sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Then the burial of Christ certified His death. He really died. The Resurrection certified the sufficiency of that death. He triumphed over death and made it man's servant instead of his master. So you see the Gospel is not a matter of philosophy, but it is a simple declaration of fact.
(c) Its trustworthiness. These simple facts bear investigation, they can be proved. The Resurrection was witnessed to by all the disciples. Such is the Gospel of mercy the great message of the redeeming work of our Saviour.
II. The Gospel of Grace. The Gospel of mercy is outside us; the Gospel of grace within us. And this Gospel of grace is the first source of Christian character. St Paul was not all that he wished to be, but 'by the grace of God,' said he, 'I am what I am'. The grace of God had changed him, and he would no more have parted with the Gospel than with life, for it was his life. This great mystery of the grace of God passes our comprehension. The grace bestowed upon St. Paul was not in vain: it was the source of his usefulness.
1 Corinthians 15:1
'I may be thought bold,' says a writer in the Spectator (15th Dec, 1714), 'in my judgment by some; but I must affirm that no one Orator has left us so visible Marks and Footsteps of his Eloquence as our Apostle.... His discourse on the Resurrection to the Corinthians, his harangue before Agrippa upon his own conversion and the necessity of that of others, are truly great and may serve as full examples to those excellent rules for the Sublime, which the best of criticks has left us.'
About three o'clock in the afternoon, one of his eyes failed, and his speech was considerably affected. He desired his wife to read the fifteenth chapter of first Corinthians. 'Is not that a comfortable chapter?' said he, when it was finished. 'Oh what sweet and salutary consolation the Lord hath afforded me from that chapter!'
McCrie's Life of John Knox (VIII.).
By way of contrast, Matthew Arnold's remarks, in the fourth chapter of Culture and Anarchy, may be cited here: 'It surely must be perceived that the idea of immortality, as this idea rises in its generality before the human spirit, is something grander, truer, and more satisfying, than it is in the particular forms by which St. Paul, in the famous fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians, and Plato, in the Phædo, endeavours to develop and establish it. Surely we cannot but feel, that the argumentation with which the Hebrew Apostle goes about to expound this great idea is, after all, confused and inconclusive; and that the reasoning, drawn from analogies of likeness and equality, which is employed upon it by the Greek philosopher, is over-subtle and sterile. Above and beyond the inadequate solutions which Hebraism and Hellenism here attempt, extends the immense and august problem itself, and the human spirit which gave birth to it.'
References. XV. 1. R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 257. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 309. R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 204. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 128.
The Gospel of Christ's Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
I. Nothing can be more plain than that the Apostles, when they set themselves to obey their Lord's commands and to go forth preaching His Gospel, were content to rest their claim for belief on their knowledge of Christ's Resurrection.
II. The fact of Christ's Resurrection is the only explanation of the existence and power of Christ's Church. No delusion, no pious imagination or exaggeration could give the security on which faith builds.
W. H. Hutton, Church Family Newspaper, vol. XIV. p. 308.
References. XV. 1, 2. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 73. XV. 1-3. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 13. XV. 2. D. C. A. Agnew, The Soul's Business and Prospects, p. 145.
The Death of Christ
1 Corinthians 15:3
Let us attempt to gather up some of the main teachings of the New Testament about the meaning of the death of Christ.
I. Note the central place the cross occupies in the New Testament. 'All the light of sacred story,' says Sir John Bowring, 'gathers round its head sublime;' and so it does. It is the centre of gravity of the New Testament. For proof of what I say, you need but turn to the Gospels and notice the space the Evangelists devote to the account of our Lord's Passion; you need but turn to the Acts and the Epistles and read the account of the apostolic preaching. Look at my own text. 'I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received,' says the Apostle Paul, writing to his Corinthian converts, 'how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.'
'First of all.' This took first rank; this was Paul's primary and central message.
And it was not Paul alone who gave the cross this central and primary place. In doing this he was only following the example of the other Apostles who were in Christ before him. You have but to turn to the Epistles of Peter and John, and to the record of the apostolic preaching in the Book of the Acts, to see that the other Apostles placed the emphasis exactly where Paul placed it. Indeed, in this very paragraph from which my text is taken Paul asserts that identity in emphasis in set and definite terms. This was no message which he had himself invented, which Paul preached to the Corinthians. He delivered to them only what he had received. In preaching as he did he was at one with Peter, and John, and James, and the rest. 'Whether it be I or they so we preached, and so ye believed.'
II. Now, what was it that the Apostles saw in the cross which led them to give it this supreme and central place in their preaching?
1. They saw in it, first, the final and consummate Revelation of the Divine Love.
2. And, secondly, the Apostles saw in the cross the Divine judgment upon sin.
3. Thirdly, the Apostles see in the cross of Christ the ground of pardon and forgiveness.
The Gospel story seems to succeed or to fail very much as the vicarious suffering of Christ is present in it or absent from it. You have heard the story of the Moravian missionaries to Greenland. For years they toiled in Greenland teaching the natives about the Creation and the Fall, the Flood and the Dispersion, and so on, and all to no purpose. But one day John Beck read to a small company of them the old story of Christ's dying love. And one of them, Kayamak, with tears streaming down his face, said to him, 'Tell it me once more, for I too would be saved'. At last they had found the key to the Greenlanders' hearts.
And what happens in Greenland happens everywhere. In a little book entitled Gospel Ethnology, the author shows by a careful comparison of missionary enterprise for the past 170 years, that what has been most effective to pierce through the callousness and prejudices of heathenism has been the story of the cross, the sufferings of the sinless Saviour proclaimed to men as the means of their pardon and acceptance with God. And what is seen abroad in heathen lands is seen also here at home.
The vicarious sacrifice of Christ is the only thing that meets the deepest needs of the heart.
J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 60.
References. XV. 3. J. D. Jones, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 284. R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 174. W. M. Clow, The Gross in Christian Experience, p. 306. W. B. Selbie, The Servant of God, p. 157. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 402; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 107. XV. 3, 4. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 21; ibid. Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 195. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 107. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 307. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 16; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 123. XV. 3-5. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 216; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 143. XV. 3-8. Ibid. p. 510. XV 3-9. Ibid. p. 146. XV. 4 . Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 445. XV. 4-8. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 48. XV. 4-11. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 220. XV. 5. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 117. T. V. Tymms, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 276. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 70; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 100. XV. 5-8. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 66; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 316. XV. 6. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2659. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 102. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 109. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 205. XV. 7. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 37. XV. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2663. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 122; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 423.
1 Corinthians 15:9
Compare the closing sentences of Matthew Arnold's essay on St. Paul and Protestantism. 'A theology, a scientific appreciation of the facts of religion, is wanted for religion; but a theology which is a true theology, not a false. Both these influences will work for Paul's re-emergence. The doctrine of Paul will arise out of the tomb where for centuries it has lain buried; it will edify the Church of the future. It will have the consent of happier generations, the applause of less superstitious ages. All will be too little to pay half the debt which the Church of God owes to this "least of the Apostles, who was not fit to be called an Apostle, because he persecuted the Church of God".'
References. XV. 9. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 89. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 22. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 245. XV. 9, 10. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 122.
1 Corinthians 15:10
During his last hours, John Knox woke from a slumber sighing, and told his friends that he had just been tempted to believe he had 'merited heaven and eternal blessedness, by the faithful discharge of my ministry. But blessed be God who has enabled me to beat down and quench the fiery dart, by suggesting to me such passages of Scripture as these: "What hast thou that thou has not received? By the grace of God I am what I am. Not I but the grace of God in me."'
References. XV. 10. W. J. Dawson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 200. W. L. Watkinson, ibid. vol. lvii. p. 391. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2833. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 274; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 230. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 216.
The Unity of Apostolic Teaching
1 Corinthians 15:11
I. I ask you to think of the fact itself the unbroken unanimity of the whole body of apostolic teachers. I may take it all from the two clauses in the preceding context, 'how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day- according to the Scriptures'. Now, what lies in it? (1) The Person of the Christ. (2) They were unbrokenly consentient in regard to the facts of His life, His death, and His Resurrection. (3) The great meaning of the death, viz., the expiation for the world's sins. There were limits to the unanimity. Paul and Peter had a great quarrel about circumcision and related subjects. The apostolic writings are wondrously diverse from one another. But in regard to the facts that I have signalised, they are absolutely one. The instruments in the orchestra are various, the tender flute, the ringing trumpet, and many another, but the note they strike is the same. 'Whether it were I or they, so we preach.'
II. Consider the only explanation of this unanimity. They were one, because their Gospel was the only possible statement of the principles that underlay, and the conclusion that flowed from, the plain facts of the life and the teaching of Jesus Christ.
III. Note the lesson from this unanimity. Let us distinctly apprehend where is the living heart of the Gospel that it is the message of redemption by the Incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God. There follows from that Incarnation and sacrifice all the great teaching about the work of the Divine Spirit in men dwelling in them for evermore. But the beginning of all is, 'Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures'. And that message meets, as nothing else meets, the deepest needs of every human soul. Let this text teach us what we ourselves have to do with this unanimous testimony. 'So we preach, and so ye believed.'
A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 140.
References. XV. 11. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays After Trinity, pt. i. p. 394. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 13. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 225. XV. 12. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 242. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 340. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 157. XV. 12-14. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1502, p. 153. XV. 12-19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2287. XV. 13. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. ii. p. 354. XV. 13-17. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 391.
Evidences for the Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:14 ; 1 John 1:3
It would be difficult to name two greater witnesses to the Resurrection than St. Paul and St. John. What is the evidence of the Resurrection? Open George Cornewall Lewis's book on the rules of historical criticism. He says the first rule you must put into operation is this, that you must have contemporary evidence.
I. The Evidence of Contemporary History. Have we got contemporary evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? Remember what you mean by contemporary evidence. Any evidence within a century is contemporary evidence. Remember that that is accepted by every scholar in history. There is not today a scholar in Europe who has a reputation to lose who would challenge that the first three Gospels were written in the first century. I could not have said that in this pulpit twenty-five years ago. I should have been challenged by the most eminent scholars. That is what the Church has gained by criticism. We are more sure of the dates; they are further back than ever they were. What else have we got? Four letters written by St. Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, admitted as genuine historical documents by sceptics like Strauss, or that eloquent French Free-thinker, Ernest Renan. Indeed Ernest Renan states that they possess every element of authenticity and genuineness.
II. Is the Evidence Intelligent? Now George Cornewall Lewis says evidence must not only be contemporary but intelligent. Read St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. There is not a book on theology in the language equal to St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans.
III. Is it Honest? That is the next rule, says the great scholar. Is it honest? Now what had the Jews to gain in preaching this? In St. Paul's next verse he says, Yea, if Christ be not risen, we are false; the Apostle, the Church, the five hundred brethren, the women, are false witnesses. Now look at that. To me that is the biggest monument of its genuineness in the book. That you get Jews to go out and preach a lie, knowing it to be a lie, propagating a lie, and being persecuted for it, stoned, killed, isolated, shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, thirsty, all, what for? Preaching a lie? Why that in itself is almost a bigger miracle than one in the book. I cannot accept it; it is against all reason.
IV. The Evidence of the Memorial. What else must you have? You must have a memorial established. Before this book was written, before one letter was written, they kept that memorial. Read contemporary history Pliny's Letters to the Emperor Trajan. 'Who are the Christians?' said the Emperor. 'Who are those in Bithynia who have been persecuted?' Pliny wrote back and said: 'They are men who meet every Sunday morning, the first day of the week, to break bread, drink wine, sing a hymn, pray to One, a Nazarene, Who was crucified. They swear an oath to abstain from all evil, and after they have taken this simple feast, they pray again, and swear an oath to the Nazarene, that they will do all the good they can in the world.' That letter was written probably before St. John's Gospel was written. That memorial sweeps the world.
V. The Evidence of Easter. Again the biggest feast in Christendom is Easter, the open grave. They say He did not die. This man the best in the world lent Himself to the biggest fraud ever perpetrated. Why even the enemies have given that up. They saw that would not account for the Church. They say the Apostles knew He was dead; that they stole the body and preached a lie. That has been given up. It does not hold; it will not account for the enthusiasm, the hope, the courage, the self-sacrifice, the nobility. It has been given up. You must account for the Church. The Church did not come all at once, the Church with all its wonderful history, its splendid ritual, its glorious ceremonies, its magnificent liturgy and hymns. Where did it come from? To me it is a far more reasonable explanation to believe that He rose, than to account for it by some trickery of imagination, some impostture practised by some designing Jews. The miracle of the Resurrection is simplicity by the side of the complex and insidious reasons for the existence of the Christian Church.
The Resurrection (for Easter-tide)
1 Corinthians 15:14
It will be profitable for us to consider the triumphant tone of assured certainty on the part of St. Paul and of all the other Apostles upon the fact of the Resurrection. That note of certainty is very striking in the Second Lesson this morning. Let us then think of some of the grounds for that certainty.
I. The Resurrection not Expected. First of all, we have this fact, and I do not think its importance can be overlooked, the belief in our Lord's Resurrection did not come with the Apostles. None of them were prepared for it. None of them in the least expected it. They did not even faintly hope that it might be. Their attitude of mind, after the awful tragedy of Good Friday, was simply one of blank despair, unillumined by any single ray of hope. We see the Apostles gathered together in their dumb despair, in that upper chamber, where they had gone for fear of the Jews, prepared for the very worst. The holy women, indeed, inspired with a woman's courage, made their way to the tomb in the early morning; but only to pay that last tribute of affection to the dead body of the Master they had loved, and that by completing the embalming of His body. Their only wonder as they went was, who should roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre; and then, to their great astonishment, they found the stone rolled away. And then there is the vision of angels, who gave their message the message of our Lord to them, and they are convinced.
At once they make their way to the Apostles, where they are gathered together, and tell them the news. How was that news received? With absolute unbelief! 'Neither believed they them!' Everywhere, with all Christ's disciples, not only was there no expectation of His Resurrection, there was absolute disbelief until the truth was forced upon them by evidence that they could no longer resist.
For example; there were the two disciples on the afternoon of the day, sad and cast down. They had heard the rumour of the empty, grave, that Christ had risen, but they did not for one moment credit it. All they could say was: 'We had hoped that it would be so'. That hope had gone. The splendid vision of the future, which in Christ's life had appealed to their imaginations, seemed to them now to be merely a dream, and as a dream it had passed, leaving only sadness and darkness behind not to these two only, but to all. 'Fools and slow of heart to believe.' This then is the state in which we see the Apostles and the disciples generally on the day of the Resurrection: weak, hopeless, truly unnerved.
II. The Resurrection a Fact. But, after the Resurrection they have no longer any hesitation in believing in the reality of this stupendous miracle. Their conviction is firm and unshakable. It is the one subject of their teaching. It is the firm basis upon which all faith and teaching rests. It is a truth concerning which they cannot now keep silent; for which they are now prepared to die. For this extraordinary change in their whole moral attitude there is only one possible explanation, namely, that they had sufficient evidence to convince them that what they had once thought to be not only improbable but impossible, had actually taken place, and that Christ had truly risen the object of their worship.
III. The Foundation of the Christian Church. Apart from the Resurrection of Christ, and from the Apostles' belief in it, how could they ever have attempted to do that which they did attempt, and which they succeeded in doing, namely, to found the Christian Church? What object, what motive could they have had to do anything at all, if Christ had not risen? To my mind, it is no exaggeration to say that, in these circumstances, the founding of the Christian Church and its marvellous growth, apart from the Resurrection, would have been an even greater miracle, greater even than the Resurrection itself, and more utterly inexplicable. But, given the Resurrection, given that absolute certainty concerning it, all that is inexplicable and impossible otherwise at once becomes possible and explicable.
The Resurrection of Christ is the sole reasonable explanation of the existence to this day of Christianity.
References. XV. 14. F. B. Woodward, Selected Sermons, p. 157. A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 74. T. G. Bonney, Sermons on Some of the Questions of the Day, pp. 111, 122. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 252; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 345; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 422. XV. 17. T. G. Bonney, Death and Life in Nations and Men, p. 35. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 467. XV. 18. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 103. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 29; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 435.
This Life Only
1 Corinthians 15:19
'If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.' In the Revised Version: 'If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.' In the margin of the Revised Version: 'If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.' The
Versions and the margin say the same thing in other words. The truth admits of being variously stated; there is no one unchanging formula. The truth comes in its own way, incarnates itself in its own flesh and shape, but it is always the same, as the Gospel is, whether preached on the high hill or in the deep dale, in thunder or in whispered love.
'This life only.' But that is an impossibility; there is no 'life only'. We have made the little seas of language, the small pools, and islanded off the great continents of duration, continuity, and divinity. Always distinguish between what God did and what we have done.
I. 'If in this life only.' What is meant by that expression? Sometimes what is meant is mistakenly called environment. That is not a scriptural expression; that word has done a good deal of mischief in the Church. It sounds well, but there is nothing in it. If it were fuller of meaning it would be less resonant.
II. Take the expression 'this life only'. There is no such thing; we cannot start an argument upon that basis. Sometimes we make large drafts upon the credulity of men, and say, Suppose for argument's sake We cannot get even so far on this line. It is inconceivable and unthinkable. How far is it possible to dislodge the sophism that there is a lonely world, a cut-off life? 'This life only.' Life cannot be so bisected; no man has an instrument keen enough to cut life up into little pieces, allocate some of the pieces in this place and others in that place. It is not possible, it is not in the charter by which we hold our life. Unity is the sign of the universe. Sometimes for convenience sake we say, as the Apostle said, 'this life only' here and now, in this place or in that place. In making such remarks we are taking great liberties with thought and with speech, we are showing our littleness and betraying our Master who has given us a kingdom to expound and to illustrate. When we break anything off from any other thing, the house is one. If we could grasp that idea in any approachably adequate degree there would follow mastery, a sense of rest, security, and ever-springing life and gratitude.
The Apostle says, 'hope in Christ' an expression which renders the suggestion of there being a 'this life only' absolutely more and more, if the expression may be allowed, impossible. Christ never came with one world; He belongs to all the world. The whole Christ-idea multiplies the worlds; the Christ-idea even multiplies the life that is here and now around us. The Christ-idea makes the wilderness a banqueting palace, turns the stones into children of Abraham, makes the stars significant of many mansions in my Father's house. There you have the plural and the singular; the mansions are many, the house is one. There are many stars at night visible to the naked eye: there is only one sky.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. IV. p. 261.
References. XV. 19. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 139. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 119. T. Rhondda Williams, ibid. vol. li. p. 36. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 29. John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 11. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 55. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 562. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 371. XV. 20. W. C. E. Newbolt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 257. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 147. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading, p. 110. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 143. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 251. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 162. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 70. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 445. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 94. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 236. XV. 21. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 257. XV. 20-22. J. H. Holford, Memorial Sermons, p. 56. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. pp. 187, 201, and 213. XV. 21. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 169. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 240. XV. 22. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 46. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 130; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 149; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. pp. 51, 151; ibid. vol. x. p. 359.
1 Corinthians 15:23
That is a great and far-reaching principle. Paul declares it to be the principle of the Resurrection: the dead shall rise 'each in his own order' (R.V.). But the truth applies today as assuredly as in that final day; and whilst it is conspicuously a law of the Resurrection, it is distinctly a law of present-day life.
I. This is a recognition of Variety. If God is to recognise human variety at last, surely we should do so now. Life is ranged in orders. The army of mankind is split up into regiments. And it is God who setteth men so. A great deal of injustice is done because we do not respect this great law of being. We must recognise individuality. We must recognise classes of men. Thank God for all the 'orders'. There is something noble and royal and Divine in all. (1) This is true of nations. Duty varies with endowment. (2) Churches are under this same law of variety 'Each in his own order'. Every Church has lessons for every other Church. (3) The same is true of Christians. All intolerance of our Christian brethren arises from our non-recognition of the great law of variety. (4) It would prevent much bitterness if we applied this ideal to Christian ministers. If there is a great variety there is also a great unity. 'The Head of every man is Christ.'
II. This is a determination of Destiny. Our 'rank' will determine our eternal estate. According to our Christian character shall our immortal portion be assigned. We are each now settling our final 'order'. Be ambitious to stand well at last.
III. This is a rule of Criticism. 'Every man in his own order.' If we are to be judged by that canon at last, we ought to judge one another by it now. It was said that the only poet Tennyson criticised roughly was himself. Charles Kingsley's widow said he was most stem toward himself. Be your own rigorous critic.
IV. This is a maxim of Service. God does not expect a kind of service from you for which you are constitutionally unfitted. God needs and asks all types of service. 'Only through each can all be gathered,' says Dean Vaughan.
V. This is also an inspiration to Holiness. To be content to be indifferent, mediocre Christians, when we are to be ranged at last according to our rank, is to commit eternal suicide. O believer, be thy best for thy Saviour's sake!
Dinsdale T. Young, The Enthusiasm of God, p. 122.
Reference. XV. 23. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 346.
The Coming of the End
1 Corinthians 15:24
It is not possible to rule these words out of life. They are perpetually recurring. We contemplate a man's life from childhood to full manhood and old age; all the works that he will do; all the associations that he will form; our eye runs along his whole course; but, at last, we reach the point where, 'Then cometh the end,' sums up and closes all.
Beyond our own little sphere it is still true. Our text tells us of Christ and His finished work. Here is His great work, conquering death, redeeming men from sin, claiming the world for God; but, even of His work, it is written, 'Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power'. Even the great redemptive work of Christ must some day be folded up and finished, and some new dispensation take its place.
Let us consider this strange characteristic of life this constant recurrence of 'endings'; this law of perpetual perishing or cessation of one man's work and its resumption by another and re-starting, by which alone the perpetual motion of life is maintained.
I. The most striking thing about the whole matter is the way in which men's desire and dread are both called out by this constant coming of the ends of things; this stopping and re-starting of the works of life.
(a) There is man's desire of the end. This partly arises from man's instinctive dread of monotony. 'I would not live always,' has been a true cry of the human soul. The wandering Jew, compelled to live on until his Saviour came again, has been one of the most pathetic and fearful figures which have ever haunted the imagination of mankind. Man's mere dread of monotony, his sense of the awful weariness of living on for ever, has made him rejoice that down the long avenues of life here, he could read the inscription of release, 'Then cometh the end'. Tell any man that he, out of all the mortals on earth, was to have no end here, and, whatever might be his first emotion, he would by-and-by be filled with dismay; for every man has gathered something which he must get rid of, something he would not carry always; and so he welcomes the prophecy, 'Then cometh the end'. But it is not only the sense of the evil element in life that makes men desire the coming end. That is after all a poor and desperate reason. When life has been a success, and developed its better powers, then, for a man to say, 'This road is glorious, but I am glad to see it stops yonder; for beyond, without doubt, there is something yet more glorious' that is a fine impatience. The noblest human natures are built thus. Let the life be filled with the spirit of the springtime, and then 'cometh the end,' but not a cessation of life, but fuller life which the heart expects. The end which comes to the promise of springtime shall be the luxuriance of summer. Thus, in many tones, some pathetic, some triumphant, yet all tones of satisfaction, do men desire the end. But there is that other point of view from which man regards the coming of the end in life.
(b) There is man's dread of the end. Undoubtedly the sense of the changefulness of things is what sends such a feeling of insecurity through all our ordinary living; a dread which haunts the very feature of life which, as we have seen, wakens also the almost enthusiastic desire of men's souls. And one reason is the soul shrinks from change; it shudders at the thought when it must reach, at last, the end of its journey here and embark on something new; and it is good in a way that the burden of proof should be on the side of change. Another reason is, that one shrinks from the thought of the coming end of the condition in which he is now living, in proportion, as he is aware, of how far he is from having fulfilled and exhausted the fulness and richness of this present life. But the strongest element in our dread of change is the great uncertainty which envelops every untried experience, the great mystery of the unlived. We dread the end even of our own imperfect condition.
Thus we recount our human lot and see man standing in desire and dread, at once, of this perpetual change, this perpetual coming of the end of things.
II. Fortunate, indeed, is it that the end of things does not depend upon man's choice, but comes by a will more large, more wise than his. If we, in such mingled mood, were at last compelled to give the sign when we thought the time had come for this mortal to put on immortality how the desire and the dread would fight within us! We are spared all that. 'It comes of itself,' men say; the Christian man with perfect reverence and truth exclaims, 'God sends it'. Apart from this view of the changefulness of life, this perpetual hurrying of all things to an end, we can make nothing out of it all. But if around this instability of human life is wrapped the great permanence of the life of God; if no end comes which is not in His sight truly a beginning; then there is light shed upon it all, and everything is instinct with His spiritual design.
References. XV. 24. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 5. XV. 24-28. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 136. XV. 25. W. Ross Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 45. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 807, and vol. li. No. 2940. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 324. XV. 26. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 282. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 721, and vol. xxii. No. 1329. XV. 27. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 251; ibid. vol. x. p. 40; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 370.
1 Corinthians 15:28
For a curious misapplication of this saying, see Emerson's essay on Circles, where he observes that 'Christianity is rightly dear to the best of mankind; yet was there never a young philosopher whose breeding had fallen into the Christian Church, by whom that brave text of Paul's was not specially prized: "Then shall also the Son be subject unto Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all". Let the claims and virtues of persons be never so great and welcome, the instinct of man presses eagerly onward to the impersonal and illimitable, and gladly arms itself against the dogmatism of bigots with this generous word out of the book itself.'
References. XV. 28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2501. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 139; ibid. vol. x. p. 45. XV. 29. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. i. p. 71. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 249. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 590. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 238. XV. 29-34. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 185. XV. 30. H. Howard, The Raiment of the Soul, p. 211. XV. 31. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 828. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 174. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 145. Dinsdale T. Young, Unfamiliar Texts, p. 42. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 359.
1 Corinthians 15:32
Criticising, in his Spirit of Modern Philosophy (p. 452 f.) the optimistic idealism of Sidney Lanier and others, Professor Royce remarks that 'from every such halfhearted scheme of the moral order we return to the facts of life themselves. There they are, our ills and our sins denying them does not destroy them, calling them illusions does not remove them, declaring them utterly insignificant only makes all the more hollow and empty the life of which they are an organic part. If, then, the only escape of our philosophy from the individual ills of life lies in denying their significance, and so the significance of this whole seeming world whereof they are a part, then indeed we are of all men most miserable.... Nay, what shall it profit us that after the manner of men we have fought wild beasts at Ephesus. There are no wild beasts, you see. It was all a dream, our morality.'
1 Corinthians 15:32
His loveless, cheerless boyhood was over, and the liberty of Oxford, which, even after the mild constraint of a public school, seems boundless, was to him the perfection of bliss.... He lived with the idle set in college, riding, boating, and playing tennis, frequenting wines and suppers. From vicious excess his intellect and temperament preserved him. Deep down in his nature there was a strong Puritan element, to which his senses were subdued. Nevertheless, for two years he lived at Oxford in contented idleness, saying with Isaiah, and more literally than the prophet, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die'.
Herbert Paul's Life of Froude, pp. 20, 21.
References. XV. 32. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 382. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 198. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 109.
1 Corinthians 15:33
'Wednesday 17. I met the class of soldiers, eight of whom were Scotch Highlanders,' Wesley writes in his Journal for 1749, in Ireland. 'Most of these were brought up well; but evil communications had corrupted good manners. They all said, from the time they entered into the army, they had grown worse and worse.'
'Of all the painful things connected with my employment,' wrote Dr. Arnold of Rugby, 'nothing is equal to the grief of seeing a boy come to school innocent and promising, and tracing the corruption of his character from the influence of the temptations around him, in the very place which ought to have strengthened and improved it. But in most cases those who come with a character of positive good are benefited; it is the neutral and indecisive characters which are apt to be decided for evil by schools, as they would be in fact by any other temptation.'
So many men are degraded by their sympathies. They have any amount of aspirations and would like to fly, but they have not the courage to fly alone. So they prefer to crawl in company.
John Oliver Hobbes, in The School for Saints (ch. XXVIII.).
'Many a man's destiny,' says Stevenson in his essay on Villon, 'has been settled by nothing apparently more grave than a pretty face on the opposite side of the street and a couple of bad companions round the corner.'
References. XV. 33. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 202; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 383; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 393; ibid. vol. vii. p. 296. XV. 34. F. C. Spurr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 416. S. Gedge, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 977.
The Resurrection Body
1 Corinthians 15:35
Observe here the contrast between other religious systems and Christianity. The most spiritual of Greek philosophers regarded man's body as a hopeless burden, a fatal clog on the soul; Christianity recognises this as partly true of the body in its present state, but asserts that these imperfections are neither necessary nor permanent; it looks forward with absolute confidence to a future state, in which the whole man, spirit, soul, and body, shall be transfigured and glorified, on the ground of the Resurrection of Christ.
The fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was not denied by the Corinthians; it made them Christians; they knew the Church was founded, not simply on a Saviour Who had died, but upon one Who had been raised from the dead by the power of God.
St Paul restates this fact; reaffirms two great truths involved Christ died; Christ had risen; he marshals his evidence, and witnesses: Cephas, the Twelve, a surviving majority out of five hundred, St. James all these had seen the risen Christ.
This is the Gospel which saves, awakens, and maintains the spiritual life. But, as he pressed home the issues of the Resurrection, doubts and difficulties arose; questions asked by inquiring minds: 'How are the dead raised up? With what manner of body do they come?' What the process, what the result of the Resurrection?
The early belief in the Resurrection was not a stupid credulity. The Corinthians were intellectual, the objections natural then and natural now. As we have stood by the open grave we have known their force, and often asked ourselves, 'With what body do they come?' Will the child rise a child? the old man an old man? the cripple maimed? the blind sightless? Will the Resurrection body be of the same material and form, only reconstructed? Is this the Christian faith? If not, 'With what body do they come?'
The Apostle meets these objections by analogy.
(Analogy does not, cannot demonstrate. This passage is not a proof of the Resurrection, nor intended to be so, but it meets certain difficulties impressively, powerfully; it argues that the laws in Nature have their counterpart in the spiritual world; that there is a unity throughout the system of the universe, and that the God of Grace and of Nature is one.)
I. 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.' There is no question, then, of re-gathering the particles of the dead body; 'neither doth corruption inherit incorruption'. None of the particles composing a human body seven years ago exist in that body today; they have passed into new combinations and forms.
St. Paul points us to the analogy of the seed and the plant: 'Thou foolish one! that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain, but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.'
Here we have a parable of wondrous force and beautiful simplicity. 'With what manner of body do they come?'
Certainly not with the same body. The plant is entirely unlike the seed from which it sprang. The Resurrection body will not be the body which we now possess. The seed is not identical with the plant; it is the parent of the organism, the form of which is determined by God.
'So also is the Resurrection of the dead.' The body is sown in corruption, liable to change, infirmity, dissolution; but 'it is raised in incorruption'. Proof against sickness and death; the glow of health throughout the ages. 'It is sown in dishonour,' in weakness a natural body, frail and helpless, ruled by the senses; 'it is raised in power,' a spiritual body, a body fashioned anew.
II. Yet the Resurrection body will, in a real sense, be our own body. When clothed with it, we shall be the same persons that we are now. The Thames is the same river now that it was a hundred years ago, flowing from the same source, created by the same force, coursing in the same channel; it is still the Thames, though not a drop of its water today was there ten years ago.
The old man today says: 'I am the same person that I was twenty, fifty years ago; though not a single particle of my body is the same, yet I am the same'. So in the Resurrection, it will be our body, only the identity will not be that of form or of particles, but that of a permanent force and character which make it what it is and constitute its unity.
'God giveth it a body,' remember, not as it pleaseth Him, 'but as it pleased Him' according to a certain law, which is His eternal will, that, through whatever changes the seed or germ of life should pass, something there shall be which shall connect its latest with its earliest stage.
III. The Resurrection body will be the manifested expression of ourselves. This, then, will be the Resurrection body ourselves, essentially ourselves. We are perpetually judging men by what we have learned to call their 'expression'. We look into a face, and say, 'There is kindness, sympathy, tenderness'; or, 'There is pride, temper, passion, avarice'. But we often judge wrongly; for this self-expression is, at present, imperfect; in the Resurrection body it will be full, complete, the perfect expression of the inmost spirit. According to the lives we live now we shall be hereafter. The character formed here will determine our future expression. Our very bodies will be our condemnation or our glory in that day. We shall then wear the garb of holiness, or the livery of sin; and every man shall know, even as he is known.
References. XV. 35. H. Bonner, Sermons and Lectures, p. 163. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 88. T. G. Bonney, Sermons on Some of the Questions of the Day, p. 09. F. Hastings, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 99. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 150. Dins-da T. Young, Unfamiliar Texts, p. 131. W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, p. 77. XV. 35, 36. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 295. XV. 35-37. S. G. Fielding, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 259.
St. Paul's Fool
1 Corinthians 15:35-38
St. Paul is here speaking of the Resurrection of the dead.
In this immortal chapter St. Paul asserts the doctrine and reasons about it, and in the text, he deals with a specific objection which was commonly urged against it. 'Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body what manner of body do they come?'
The objection, you observe, is twofold. It states two difficulties which were felt regarding the Resurrection in those days, and which are felt, perhaps no less acutely, still.
I. When these bodies of ours are laid in the grave, they are not preserved intact century after century, millennium after millennium, waiting until the resurrection morning shall break and the touch of God shall awaken them and His voice summon them forth from their secure abode. Nay, no sooner are they committed to the bosom of the earth than they are subjected to the mysterious processes of Nature's alchemy. They decay; they crumble; they vanish away. Open a grave where a dead body was laid only the other year, and do you find it still lying there, 'with meek hands folded on its breast,' awaiting the Resurrection? No, it has disappeared. It has disappeared, but it has not perished. It has been transmuted. The worn-out fabric has been taken down and re-made and woven by the deft hand of Nature, that skilful artificer, into new and diverse vestures. It has passed into other vital organisms grass, flowers, trees, and animals. And how then are the dead raised up? How can the material which has undergone such dissolution and dispersion, be re-collected and re-fashioned. It belongs to the common store of matter which never increases and is never diminished through all its manifold transformations and adaptations; and the corporeal tabernacles which our souls inhabit now have served myriads before us during the long ages of the past, and will be theirs no less than ours at the Resurrection.
II. And suppose our bodies could be restored to us at the Resurrection: are they suited for the eternal world, which is so unlike the world that we inhabit now? It is a spiritual world, and shall we go thither, according to the coarse gibe of the Pagans in early days, with hair on our heads and nails on our fingers? What use will there be for material bodies with their carnal functions in that immaterial domain? This is the difficulty which vexed the mind of that believer in the city of Corinth when he asked: 'With what manner of body do they come?'
It is a hard question and a deep problem, and he was no frivolous sceptic who propounded it. He was an earnest man who would fain believe but found faith very difficult. And does it not seem as though the Apostle made a very bad beginning when he prefaced his answer to that distressed soul with an abusive epithet 'thou fool?'
No, look at the word and consider what it means. He listens to that difficulty about the Resurrection, and then he turns upon his questioner, not abusively but kindly and sympathetically, and says: 'Ah, you blind, unperceiving man! Look about you and see what is going on everywhere in this great, mysterious world; and you will never ask that question and never be troubled with that difficulty any more'.
And this is the lesson which I would bring home to you. Here is that transcendent mystery, the Resurrection of the dead, the awakening of our mortal bodies to a larger, fuller, more glorious life; and it seems a stark impossibility. But look around you, and you will see on every side innumerable prophecies, arguments, and evidences of this miraculous consummation. You observe, St. Paul points out two wonders which that troubled inquirer had never noticed, although they were continually being enacted before his eyes; for he was like the statue in the temple senseless, unperceiving.
I. The first is the law that, in St. Bernard's phrase, 'Death is the Gate of Life'. 'That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.'
II. Death is not only the Gate of Life; it is the pathway to a larger, richer, and more beautiful life.
'Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what manner of body do they come?' 'Ah, blind, unperceiving man!' answers the Apostle, 'look at the seed cast into the ground, quickened, and raised up to a new and more abundant life; and recognise what this betokens. So also is the Resurrection of the dead.'
David Smith, Man's Need of God, p. 109.
References. XV. 35-38. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 306. XV. 35-41. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 161. XV. 36. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 63. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 213. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 131. XV. 36, 37. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 153. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 411.
The Resurrection Body
1 Corinthians 15:37
I. The body is essential to the complete idea of immortality.
II. The resurrection is not the resurrection of the present body, though it is in some way connected with it.
III. Men receive a glorious body not because of death, but because of life in Christ.
God and the Body
1 Corinthians 15:38
'Giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him.' He must always be pleased; there cannot be two kings upon the throne of the universe; God never asks any man to share His throne with Him in the government of things: Providence is one, an integer that cannot be broken up into fractions or decimals: and we have to come to that conclusion; after all our wandering, we come back travel-stained and travel-worn, we put off our sandals and set our staff in its place in the corner. What, then, is common to all these bodies and all these entities, what is the common denomination in which all these fractions stand? LIFE! Who has seen life? Nobody. Who can define life? No one. You never can define the truly great: you can define living, but not life; loving, but not love; godliness but not God. There are some private chambers in the creation the doors of which we may not open. God is the creator of life, and in Christ Jesus He came to give man more life and life more abundantly, in wave upon wave, and billow upon billow, and ocean rolling over the shoulders of ocean; all life. There is no death in God.
I. God has given His own life a body. God always illustrates His own doctrine, and gives object-lessons in His own science. God has always been writing in white letters upon a black background. God has given Himself a body. Have we seen it? We have seen nothing else. Where is it? Everywhere. He who has seen only dust has not seen the very world he lives in; he who has seen only the surface of things has seen nothing, he can explain nothing, he can worship nothing, he has not seen enough to draw out his soul in religious adoration and expectancy. What is the body of God? Creation; all the things that are above us and around us and beneath us are endeavouring to express in visible form and symbol the It whose heart throbs and quivers through creation. I see God in all stars and flowers, in all angels and ravenous beasts, in all crystal temples and in all wild wildernesses and jungles; I see Him in the cultivated flower, on which He often smiles to see how poor a workman his little Adam is; and I see Him in the wild wayside flower, which bears more evidently, to the observing and religious eye, the signature of God. God comes to us in snow and in violets, in all colours, in all events; history is His tabernacle, providence His altar, life His throne: these are not Himself; the glove is not the hand, the house is not the occupant, the body is not the soul: creation is not God. God is within creation, and beyond it, outside it, above it, beneath it, around it: but creation is not God; God is a Spirit; God incarnated Himself in Adam; the whole Trinity was in that one Man, and that one man was a duality, 'male and female created He him'. How was Adam an incarnation of God? Because the Bible tells us that God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, in our image and likeness was Adam made. We have no explanation, we have only a fact; if we could accept facts, and let explanations alone, the Church would have next to nothing to do in the way of controversy, it would be reduced to the ministry of charity, to the holy apostleship of love and service.
II. God was supremely and gloriously incarnated, embodied in Christ. In Christ dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. God gave Himself a body when He caused Christ to be born of the Virgin, and to go forth that He might redeem with blood the self-enslaved and self-destroyed race of man. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; there is no other true and adequate explanation of Christ. Until you have come to His Deity I speak now from the standpoint of my own conviction you have not even begun to explain in any degree the mystery which goes through all the life of the world by the name of Christ. In Him was all fulness; all things are created by Him and for Him, and without Him was not anything made that is made. With these assurances, apostolically given, I can have no hesitation whatever in accepting Jesus Christ as God. He was the body of God, He was the impersonation of God, He did the work of God; He created by healing, He redeemed by sacrifice, He broke His heart that ours might not be broken. He died in the ineffable darkness that we might never know the meaning of such night as that which enshrouded His orphaned soul.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. VII. p. 12.
References. XV. 38. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 184. XV. 40. F. Lawrence, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 285. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 396. XV. 40, 48, 49. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 138. XV. 41. C. S. Horne, The Soul's Awakening, p. 119.
1 Corinthians 15:42
Compare the closing words of Walton's Life of Donne, where he remarks: 'He was earnest and unwearied in the search of knowledge, with which his vigorous soul is now satisfied, and employed in a continual praise of that God that first breathed it into his active body; that body, which once was a temple of the Holy Ghost; and is now become a small quantity of Christian dust. But I shall see it re-animated.'
References. XV. 42. W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p. 281. XV. 42-44. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 35.
The Natural and the Spiritual
1 Corinthians 15:44
There is no more wonderful or impressive chapter in the Bible than this fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians, which deals with the transfiguration of this present life into its future state. Whenever we hear it read as we often do on the saddest occasions of our lives we are listening to the best explanation we shall ever get of the great change which will take place when we ourselves pass out of the present life. I. Life Beyond the Grave. In stating the fact of the future life St. Paul was, of course, not making a new statement, especially to the people of Greece. Their most ancient poets had written of a future life. They believed most thoroughly in a life beyond the grave. These Corinthians to whom St. Paul was writing had their own witnesses if they chose to call them. Indeed the Gentile world had shown in their past history an even clearer idea of immortality than had the chosen nation itself. They had obstinately clung to the instinctive belief that they must go on living that the soul, whatever it was, wherever it was, would never be destroyed. But though there was this unmistakable certainty about the future, yet there was no glory in this certainty. Man would continue to live that was the idea but only in some shadowy state, some pale reflection of the life on earth. And so this letter of St. Paul to these clever Corinthians, these men of universal intelligence, had a very special message. It was not to prove that the soul was indestructible, but to prove by the Resurrection of Christ what sort of life awaited man beyond the grave. The value of human personality is the basis of St. Paul's letter.
II. A Spiritual Existence. Our ideas of personality are so much bound up with the bodies that are so closely our own, that we shrink from the idea of a purely spiritual existence. It is so unintelligible; we have not the slightest idea what pure spirit is like. We may say truly, of course, that our bodies are not ourselves that, indeed, every particle of the body we see and feel undergoes some complete chemical change in the course of seven or eight years, while we remain the same, we continue the same personality. We admit logically and easily that our individuality that mysterious something within us which is not imperilled by such changes as loss of limb or the chemical renewal of the flesh is our true soul. Yet, though the thought is quite logical, we cannot separate the body from the soul, we cannot imagine a pure spiritual existence. St. Paul, however, distinctly encourages us to believe that the future life will not be that mere abstraction from which we recoil, will not be a merely spiritual existence; but rather that the spirit will continue to have its body. We may be comforted by the hope that in the future life our friends, and we ourselves, shall possess some real distinction in form as well as in spirit. St. Paul speaks of another body, a spiritual body, yet a body bearing the closest relationship with the natural body. An analogy, he says, may be found in the growth of the seed the seed which in its wonderful transformation to the flower loses none of its individuality. That suggests to us much that is comforting.
III. Recognition in Eternity. It suggests to us the comfort of recognition. We shall not be lost to one another. The resurrection body will, we doubt not, in a way that we cannot yet conceive, present sufficient points of resemblance to the earthly body to make recognition possible. There is the consolation here that we all want that we must have before we can ever take a calm view of death. All that is best in our life here has been sanctified by loving ties. Our spiritual growth has depended so largely on the way we have spent and used our life in the interests of others that we seem to demand the assurance that all this love will not be lost. Such an assurance is given us by St. Paul.
References. XV. 44. D. W. Simon, Twice Born and other Sermons, p. 220. J. M. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 51. B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 47. XV. 45. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 113. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 39. XV. 45, 46. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 101. XV. 45, 47. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. pp. 175, 180; ibid. vol. iv. p. 399.
1 Corinthians 15:46
It is noteworthy that in the Hebrew Scriptures there is scarcely a hint of any belief in a Resurrection. The familiar verse from Job, so often read in the burial service, had not the meaning which Christians now attach to it, but referred only to the coming of a vindicator of justice and right, a living Redeemer who would justify a maligned man. Even the later prophets, Daniel and Ezekiel, give only faint suggestions of the future life. Yet when our Lord came some such expectations prevailed, though tinged with sensuous notions, which He earnestly sought to banish. The Sadducees alone among the Jews of His day denied both resurrection and immortality, but our Lord maintained the popular belief, developed and purified it, and based it on a sure foundation, for He built it on His own empty grave. By His Resurrection He gave the world the first indubitable evidence of the truth we rejoice in, so that when we depict on Easter cards, as we sometimes do, flowers of hope clustering round a cross, we suggest what is true as well as beautiful.
I. The doctrine of the Resurrection is based not on philosophic speculations, but on historic fact, and the doctrine is nowhere so fully set forth as in this wonderful and familiar chapter.
The Christian argument for our resurrection rests not on analogy, but on the fact of the Lord's Resurrection. He was the 'firstfruits' of them that sleep, and to any Jew that word firstfruits would have special significance. Every Jew had been accustomed to present the firstfruits of field and garden in the Temple, and when he presented them, or had them presented, he recognised in them pledges of what was unseen fruit and corn in distant orchards and fields. Such then, says Paul, is the relation of Christ's Resurrection to ours, its promise and pledge.
The Apostle points us beyond what takes place at death, to what will be experienced after death. It is but a hint, yet the hint is unmistakable. The ransomed spirit passes at once into a state of felicity, but will subsequently be clothed with a glorified body like that of the risen Christ, and this will bring with it possibilities of heightened bliss and nobler service.
II. But my text may also be regarded as the assertion of a general law which prevails in the whole economy of God, for it is not only in the unseen future that the natural precedes the spiritual. In all God's dealings with men we see progressiveness and development, for He is ever pressing forward toward His own ideals, which men cannot mar nor demons destroy.
III. This truth is applicable to the revelations of God's will, which have always been progressive.
(1) The world was very gradually prepared for the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. It was after long waiting that the spiritual followed the natural. In the earlier centuries simple lessons of dependence on God were taught. By the limitations of human power, and the interposition of Divine power, this lesson was enforced: 'Without Me ye can do nothing'. Still more clearly the patriarchs heard this truth, and by rewards, like Canaan, which were typical of the higher, they were helped heavenward. Then the Mosaic economy proclaimed the penalty of sin, the separation caused by it between God and man, and the necessity for a Mediator. Still clearer views were granted to the prophets, and at last Christ appeared so that His disciples saw what prophets and kings had failed to see, that God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
(2) If you contrast those two dispensations you will see their progressiveness yet more clearly. Christianity was to Judaism what manhood is to youth.
(3) And that dispensation became still higher when Christ disappeared as a human teacher, and became known and trusted as the exalted King of His people, ruling them and guiding them by His Spirit into all truth. Even in Christianity there was first the natural, then the spiritual, and this revelation is still growing, for the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His word.
Alfred Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, p. 15.
References. XV. 46. Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 52. B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 9. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 21. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 242. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 164; ibid. (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 35. XV. 47. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 58. XV. 47-49. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 275. XV. 48. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 288. XV. 49. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 191. XV. 49, 50. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 411.
1 Corinthians 15:50
'He that resisteth pleasure crowneth his life' ( Sir 14:5 ) that is morality with the tone heightened, passing, or trying to pass, into religion. 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;' there the passage is made, and we have religion.
M. Arnold, Literature and Dogma (ch. I.).
References. XV. 50. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 200; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 360; ibid. vol. ix. p. 462. XV. 50-52. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 15. XV. 51. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 186. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 295. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. pp. 106, 303; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. pp. 153, 182. XV. 51, 52. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 163.
The Latest Trumpet of the Seven
1 Corinthians 15:52
Strictly speaking, it is a military trumpet which is here referred to. War trumpets were greatly used in the old days for signals and for commands. But never was such a trumpet put to such a use as this. A final military summons is to be given. The latest of God's seven trumpets is to peal forth. Literally the words run, 'One shall blow a trumpet'. How solemn the announcement 'one shall blow a trumpet,' and that 'one' the Son of God!
I. This is a summons of farewell to earthly scenes. Probably such a message was never more distasteful to old and young than today. To think of the things which are seen as temporal is foreign to modern inclination, and repugnant to it. This text is a gospel; good news of a truth; for this trumpet blast means farewell to earth's painful scenes. Sir Thomas Browne wisely said, 'There is nothing strictly immortal but immortality'.
II. This is a summons to the immediate presence of God. (1) To 'God the Judge of all' will the last trumpet summon us. How shall we stand before Him? I pray you, familiarise yourselves with that ultimate point of view. (2) The God to whose immediate presence the trumpet will summon us will be 'the rewarder of all that seek Him'.
III. This is a summons to a glad assembly of saints. Who does not at times ache for such fellowship? And what reunions this will mean!
IV. This is a summons to wonderful revelations. God has his richest revelations yet to make. What glories are laid up in store! We shall never know how truly 'God is love' till we attain the beatific eminences. Lord Tennyson remarked to Bishop Lightfoot, and that saintly scholar endorsed it, that 'the cardinal point of Christianity is the life after death'.
V. This is a summons to unspeakable delights. The glory of Christ will make our cup overflow. We shall see Him as He is. And what a delight deathlessness will be! Sinlessness in ourselves and in all around us. To serve our God with flawless service and with ministry that cannot weary; this will heighten the high joys of glory.
VI. This is a summons of infallible certainty. 'The trumpet shall sound.' You cannot escape immortality, but you may lose eternal life.
Dinsdale T. Young, Messages for Home and Life, p. 231.
References. XV. 52. Archbishop Benson's Memorial Sermon for Bishop J. Prince Lee was preached from this text. The Bishop had wished to have upon his tombstone the single Greek word translated in our version "The trumpet shall sound". Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 345. XV. 53, 54. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 199. XV. 53-58. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 191.
1 Corinthians 15:54
There are very few who do not sometime think about the life beyond that which they are living now. It is an instinct of the human race. Death forces itself on us as a universal fact. No traveller but One has come back to describe to us this unknown country. But from the earliest days it pleased God to give to men glimpses of the unseen. It is Christ only Who 'has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light'. Apart from Christ the future has no gleam of hope. No sure word comes from anywhere else. The world's greatest philosophers have nothing of their own to tell us. One of the best known of modern thinkers, Herbert Spencer, writing to an intimate friend, said: 'My own feeling respecting the ultimate mystery is such that of late years I cannot even try to think of ultimate space without some feeling of terror'. What a contrast to that triumphant cry, 'Death is swallowed up in victory!' L This is the hope, 'sure and certain,' with which we lay to rest those loved and cherished here, who have died in the Lord, whether it be some little one whose eyes have hardly opened upon this 'troublesome world,' or whether it be some honoured servant of God who has reached the ripeness of age, and spent many years in doing good. For them death has no sting, for sin in its strength has been conquered by Christ. The condemnation which the holy law adjudged He has borne. The power which sin exerted in us He has overcome, and the joyful chorus of the redeemed will rise: 'Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'.
II. The future for the Christian is all victory, but a victory which has had its anticipations here. The Christian's first step to heaven starts with the passage from death to life. He is already in possession of the triumphant life that will last for ever. For him dying is not death. He lives, he works, he hopes as one in sight of eternal victory. And this gives energy, stability, yea! perpetuity to all work that is done for God.
H. E. Fox, The Record, vol. XXVII. p. 476.
Reference. XV. 54. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 117.
Concerning the Collection
1 Corinthians 15:55 ; 1 Corinthians 16:1
The fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians is the country of the springs; the sixteenth opens with a glimpse of the river. The fifteenth is the country of the truth, fundamental Christian truth, in which our personal hopes and triumphs have their birth; with the opening of the sixteenth I catch a glimpse of the shining graces which are the happy issue of the truth.
I. Look away for a moment to the springs. The Apostle is joyfully recounting our hopes and triumphs in Christ. 'O death, where is thy sting?' To those in Christ death has no poison, only honey; its burden is sweetness rather than pain. I may lift my tearful eyes in hope, and gaze along the 'living way' into the prepared palace of the ageless life. And what is the import of this? It means that the possibilities of the individual life have been raised to the powers of the infinite. That is the glorious burden of chapter fifteen, the emancipation and enlargement of life in the risen Christ. Now see the beautiful succession, taking its rise in the last verse of chapter fifteen and emerging clearly into view in the first verse of chapter sixteen. The larger life is succeeded, say rather accompanied, by larger living.
II. What was the occasion of this collection? There was a large body of poor Jews in Jerusalem who had eagerly received the Christ of God. For this they were excommunicated, outlawed, banned. But Christianity fostered humanity; faith evoked philanthropy; and from their fellow-believers in wider fields there flowed a steady stream of beneficence to alleviate their distress. The birth of Christianity was the birth of a new philanthropy.
III. It is this vital association that I desire to emphasise. Truth and activity are related as springs and rivers. If we want the one to be brimming, we must not ignore the other. That was the cardinal and all-determining weakness of Robert Elsmere. He denied the Resurrection, and all the specious and heartening truths which gather about it; and out of the dry, vacuous heart of its negation sought to educe a river of benevolent energy for the permanent enrichment of the race. 'I will open rivers in high places!' and only when we have the 'high places' in our life, the enthroned and sovereign truths of atonement and resurrection, and the sublime and awful prospect of an unveiled immortality, only then will our life be a land of springs, musical with the sound of many waters, flowing with gladsome rivers to cheer and refresh the children of men.
J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 156.
References. XV. 55. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i. p. 50. J. Bolton, Selected Sermons (2nd Series), p. 23. H. S. Holland, Vital Values, p. 179. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 120; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 87. XV. 55-58. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2929.
Law, Sin, and Death
1 Corinthians 15:56-57
I. It is sin that makes death terrible. 'The sting of death is sin.' We are all in a measure afraid of it. We try to forget it, but the endeavour is vain. I do not say, nor does the Apostle mean, that there is no bitterness at all in death save that which the sense of guilt brings. He means that the keenest torture of death, its poison, venom, sting, is found in the fact of sin. It is the guilty heart and the troubled conscience that clothe the last enemy with the garments of horror. We read that 'by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, because all have sinned'. Does it mean that if we had known no sin we should have known no death, that we should have lived for ever upon this earth, and been spared what we call the final trial? No, it cannot mean that. It means that sin made death what it is to us gave it its dread power and torture; and that if we had known no guilt we should have faced it, and passed through it without fear perhaps welcoming it as a weary man welcomes sleep.
II. The torturing power of sin is given by the law. 'The strength of sin is the law.' The Apostle does not mean here simply the Jewish law the law embodied in Old Testament precepts and commandments but that larger moral law of God which is written everywhere that solemn, 'thou shalt not' and 'thou shalt,' which we hear continually in every speech and language, which is written in nature and history and all the books we read, which is stamped upon our very constitution and engraven on our heart of hearts.
III. The crowning fact, the sweet everlasting promise and assurance of the victory. 'Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.' What is this victory? (1) It is the lifting up of the awful weight of sin the lightening and removal of all life's guilty and op pressive memories at the feet of a forgiving Father; the deliverance, which comes from the cross; the sweet, glad word of acceptance and pardon, which, like a burst of morning sunlight, sweeps all the vapours and darkness of our night away. (2) Then it is the bringing of the awful dreaded Jaw into harmony with our will, or our will into harmony with the law. We can do it through Him who strengtheneth us. (3) And, lastly, it is the clearing of all doubt.
J. G. Greenhough, The Divine Artist, p. 125.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57
These are the words carved on the mural tablet in Haworth Church, below the name of Charlotte Bronte.
'When the day that he must go hence was come,' says Bunyan, of Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, 'many accompanied him to the River-side, into which as he went he said, Death, where is thy sting? And as he went down deeper he said, Grave, where is thy victory? So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side.'
References. XV. 56, 57. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 154. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 23.
Victory Over Sin
1 Corinthians 15:57
This fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians was written to establish our faith in the resurrection of the body. But before the close of the chapter the Apostle recollects that there is another still more deadly foe, a foe which gives its sting to death itself, and that foe is sin. Sin, too, must be overcome. Now, we make no secret of the fact that life is a battle. The world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly assaulting us. We see our enemies advance against us in three battalions. But over them all we are told there is victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now how are we to gain the victory?
I. First of all, with regard to the devil, if you turn to the twelfth chapter of the Revelation of St. John, and the eleventh verse, you will see there how victory over him is won. There is a full-length portrait of him in the ninth verse. (1) How are you to overcome him as the tempter? You will see in the eleventh verse. 'They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.' It is the only way in which you can really gain the victory over sin. (2) He is called 'the accuser of our brethren'. When he finds that his allurements will not cause us to fall, he will begin to accuse us, he will accuse us of sins which we have committed, and so he would try and keep us away from God. (3) When he finds that neither temptation nor accusation will drive them from God, he tries persecution. By the blood of the Lamb we put the great enemy to flight.
II. Then there is the world. How are we to overcome the world? In the First Epistle of St. John, the fifth chapter, and the fourth verse: 'Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'. It is your faith which will overcome the world. The world comes and tries to tempt you by the things which are seen. How are you to overcome? You overcome by your faith, you overcome by seeing that the real things are the unseen things, not the things of time and sense.
III. And how are you to overcome the flesh, the third great enemy? In the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in the sixth chapter, and the nineteenth verse, speaking of those same sins of the flesh, he says: 'What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God? And ye are not your own.' This is the only power by which you can overcome the flesh by realising the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost which dwells in you.
E. A. Stuart, The One Mediator and other Sermons, p. 177.
The Victory Over Sin ( for Easter Even )
1 Corinthians 15:57
As we look today upon the empty cross and by faith anticipate the empty tomb of tomorrow we sing a note of triumph, for the Lord Jesus by His Death and Resurrection 'giveth us the victory' over sin.
I. Sham Victories. Only let me here warn you not to mistake for a victory what is not one. It may be that a sin may be prevented or arrested only (a) by some human consideration; by a fear, for instance, of punishment, or of pain, or of earthly loss without any higher motive. Then the amendment may be the result, again (b) of a better education, or a higher taste, or some change of outward association. Or, it may be, that a sin may be only (c) driven in. It may be as real before God in its latent condition, quite out of sight of man perhaps, only in a thought as it was in its overt act. Or it may be, that what appeared the subjugation of the sin is only (d) the substituting of one sin for another. It often occurs and it never occurs without great danger of deception it often occurs that a young man abandons the wicked indulgences of his passion, but it is only to take up the pride of position, and the display of circumstance, which all minister still to self, and become equal vices of his manhood. The fact is, the heart of a man, and the life of a man, has many phases; but if the love of God be not there, however man may judge, the one phase is not really nearer to God than the other; but in God's sight they are all equally dark. Call not such things as those victories.
II. Real Victories. Real victories lie in a progression; the first must be within, over some spring of conduct within the mind. I do not say but that to conquer a wrong action will reflect upon the motive from which the action came. And the inner life is often affected by the outer. But no real victory is gained until there is a victory within the heart. The real place where the battle is fought, and the victory won, is within. It is in the deep places of the heart; it is in private exercise; it is in closet wrestlings; it is in ordered prayers; it is in the resolute struggles of the mind, put forth in the very moments of temptation; it is in communion with God. No victory that will stand no victory worth the name is ever gained without this. Then comes what meets the eye, what looks so great, what men talk about, and what men admire. Of all the rest they know nothing. But the true battle was fought before any man saw the victory.
III. Aids to Victory. To help you to attain these victories let me suggest one or two things.
(a) Make great use of the power of God's Word. Our blessed Lord was pleased, each time, to foil and beat back the wicked one by 'It is written'. By His quotations from Deuteronomy, Christ brought the force of truth to countervail the moral evil. Hence the importance of the daily study of God's Word. No one ever conquered sin without it. You must be apt in the use of the Bible; and have ready to your hand, at the right moment, the right verse and the right thought. Before that light, properly brought to bear, darkness and all sin is darkness darkness will flee away.
(b) Cherish the faintest whispers of the Spirit in your heart. They are always coming. Honour them when they come they will increase. Trifle with them they will go away. When you have a better thought, then and there thank God for it. Turn it to some account. Do something. The enemy may be, and will be, more violent with you, because you do this; so also will the Spirit grow dominant. 'When the enemy cometh in like a flood the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.'
(c) Realise that you are in Christ, and Christ in you. Before the presence of Christ, when He walked this earth, the antagonism of all evil could never stand. It owned His higher power, and went into the very dust. Do not doubt, before the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ in you, there will be the same effect; and that it will be strong and mighty, to the 'pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan'.
(d) Never forget that 'this hind goes not forth but by prayer and fasting '. It is the highest work which is given man to do self-victory for it is the basis of every other work in the world. And you must not wonder if the effort be a very severe one. But it is a matter in which God especially blesses great efforts. Have yours always in hand. Fight with your own heart, as with something that has to be mastered. Be particular about the little things, for there, indeed, the field is lost or won. Make each success the argument for another. Grapple with your besetting sin. And give God no rest till He lays it dead at your feet. It will then be in God's hand. He must do it. The means that you have may be very weak; the pebble small, the sling simple, the arm young, but the prayer will go straight, and the giant will fall.
But these victories had never been except for a living union with Christ. The victory is His and His alone. By His Cross and Passion, and by His glorious Resurrection, He will deliver, and so with St. Paul we triumph and thank God for this glorious victory.
References. XV. 57. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 299. G. G. Bradley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 266.
1 Corinthians 15:58
All Christians, East and West, all those nearer to us at home from whom we have sometimes to deplore our unhappy division, agree in this great fundamental truth of the Christian religion 'Christ is risen indeed'.
I. And while all Christians agree that Christ is risen, so do they mean by this Resurrection that Christ had died for us, and by His Resurrection has proved that He was the Son of God, as He had said. So St. Paul understood the doctrine of the Resurrection. It proved Jesus to be the Son of God with power. Today, when as Christians we keep the great festival of the Resurrection, we declare our belief that Jesus was the Son of God, that He died for us and rose again for our justification. What can we want more? 'If God be for us, who can be against us? If He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not, with Him, freely give us all things. It is God that justifieth, Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us.'
The Resurrection shows that Christ was the Son of God; thus the Son of God died for us. Here, then, is pardon for all our sins. Here is pardon and peace for us all. But there is more. Christ not only died, but is risen again, and so there is new life and hope for us. 'Because I live,' the Saviour had said, 'ye shall live also.' Easter Day opens a new fountain of life for us. 'Christ is risen from the dead,' and not only so, but is 'become the firstfruits of them that slept. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.'
II. By the Resurrection of Christ we are to receive new life from Him. As today we think of the risen, living Christ, we ought to see in Him the fulfilment of His own words. 'I am the vine, ye are the branches.' When we think of the risen Saviour today, we should try and picture Him to ourselves as the true Vine, and ourselves as the branches drawing our life from Him. We need not trouble ourselves by seeking to explain exactly the way in which this Christ-life lives in us. Some great facts we know, and a sufficiency of results has been given us to enable us to trust in hope. The whole effect of the Incarnation of the Son of God towards humanity is not to be seen in this life. Our life in this world down here now is but a very small and imperfect part of the whole results of the risen life of the Saviour. 'Our life is hid with Christ in God.' He is not where once He was, in the manger in the stable at Bethlehem. He is not now working in a little village shop at Nazareth. He is not now hanging on the cross on Calvary, but He is risen, He has ascended and is on the throne in the full enjoyment of the love and glory of the Father, angels, and archangels, and all the hosts of heaven worshipping Him. And that is where we are to be, in the place which the Saviour is preparing for us on the throne with Himself. That is the true end, the real flower and fruit of the Christ-life which we derive from the true Vine. But this world down here is, as it were, too cold a climate for us to see what the real beauty of the fruit of the Vine is. We can, as it were, only see the stem and the leaves. But on Easter Day we do well to reassure ourselves of the promise that we shall one day see Him as He is, and that we shall be like Him.
III. St. Paul, in the long chapter of which this text is the close, had been proving the fact of the Resurrection of Christ, and then he tells us what, in his mind, should be the practical conclusion.
'Therefore,' he says, 'therefore my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your work is not in vain in the Lord.'
To be steadfast, unmoveable. This is the first great lesson for us today, to continue in this faith of our Lord's Resurrection, grounded and settled, and not to be moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which we have, as it were, heard again today in the words, 'The Lord is risen indeed'. To renew our act of faith, to stand firm, and abide its results. Our mental and spiritual attitude then should be one of trustfulness and hope. 'O Israel trust in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is plenteous redemption.'
1 Corinthians 15:58
'Always' is a keyword of Christianity. Other religions make concessions to human nature. They allow periods of outbreak and unrestraint. If you will keep the law 360 days in the year, you can have five days to work your own will. You will be set free from one commandment if only you will obey the rest Even in the corrupted forms of Christianity this tendency to allow some occasional relaxation may be found. No doubt it is very congenial to human nature. No doubt it helps to make the acceptance of a religion very much easier. We are not so unwilling to conform at times if times of license are given to us. But Christianity makes no exception, permits of no deviation. It takes its law and its power from the presence of Christ, Who is with us always, all the days, and all the hours of the days, through all the years of vivid experience, with their every grief and joy. Christ Himself is never absent, never leaves us alone, never loses us from His sight, never gives us leave to go astray even for an instant.
I. So confident of its power is Christianity that it carries its perpetual demands into every region of labour and thought. Yes, to every cave, every mountain height of every region. Thus we are to be 'always abounding in the work of the Lord'. Has Christianity, then, no place for rest? If there is one thing above another in this weary world that we claim and crave, it is the privilege of rest. If six days of the week we labour and do our work, then does not the seventh belong to us? If we toil for eleven months of the year, do we not need the twelfth for play? Does Christ grudge us rest? No, verily, for it was as the Rest-giver that He came. Did He not preach His rest in the days of His flesh to a company of the poorest and most enslaved, wearied with labour, worn with sorrow? Did He not mercifully say to His disciples, 'Rest awhile'? Yes; but He bound together labour and rest as all the work of the Lord. When He rested Himself, He set the pattern of resting for His people. 'Jesus being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well.' Sat thus. It may be, and it is sometimes, just as much the work of the Lord to rest as to labour. What is constant is our obligation to abound in the work of the Lord, to toil and to cease from toiling in His presence, by His strength, under His eye.
II. More than that, Christianity enters into the region of mood and feeling. It seems as if that world could never be brought under complete command. Our actions, our words we may recall; but who is to control emotion, who can answer for the moods that come and go, independently, as it seems, of our will? It is written, 'Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice'. But how hard that is, hard for all, specially hard for us, for of all the emotions the emotion which our nation feels least is that of pure joy. It has almost died from us, save in the case of the very young. Christianity does not say that we are not to sorrow. What it forbids is the sorrow that is without hope. That sorrow is not to be indulged in for a moment Christ says, Whoever comes and goes, I am with you rejoice in Me.
III. Again, says the Apostle, we are always confident. Does this mean that the Apostle was a stranger to depression and fear? No servant of Christ has ever escaped these, has ever failed to know that strange sinking of the heart in the face of hostile powers, with which most of us are familiar. All our fathers passed under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. What he means is that he was confident, even as we are to be confident, about the issue. Even if his foes drove him away they sent him to the Lord.
If my bark sink, 'tis to another sea.
The wildest winds could but toss him to Christ's breast We are never to lose this confidence for ourselves, nor ever to lose our assurance, nor ever to despair of the wonderful Church of Christ, nor falter in our faith that the Redeemer's victory is won and sure.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 119
Hope and Service
1 Corinthians 15:58
I. How does the Lord come to us in the matter of the revelation of the doctrine of rising again from the dead? The Lord has one great way of coming; the Lord comes by parable, by symbol, by little insufficient parallels and analogies; yet He always says to us, Do not make too much of these; there is falsehood in exaggeration; go no further than the parable invites you to go, for the parable simply indicates the direction and tells you to move along that high and ever-heightening line. This is the method of Jesus Christ; He cannot tell us poor finite struggling creatures the whole mystery of God and His purpose, but He says, the kingdom of God is like unto After that we have to study the symbol or picture, always taking care not to drive it with vehemence and feverish excitement, but to wait where it waits, and to look up where it looks up, and to avoid what it avoids, leaving the mystery, yet partially illuminating it. Are we in the Divine school, poor little infirm purblind scholars? Enough to be in it! The question is not how far we have got in our learning, but are we learning of the right teacher, are we in the right mood, and are we reading the right book? After that, I repeat, all matters of detail and mutability will arrange and adjust themselves to the main purpose of the revelation of the kingdom whose throne is an everlasting throne.
It is so that the Apostle deals with this doctrine of the Resurrection. He says, The Resurrection is like unto this little green bud in April. He does not say, This is the Resurrection, but, This is a parable of the rising-again; all these black branches have been sleeping under the snow for a month or two or more, but now there is a warmth in the air, there is a sense of awakening life, and the kingdom of the Resurrection is like this little green bud. But does one bud make the spring? Yes, it does. They say one swallow does not make a summer. They lie. The swallow makes no mistakes about the summer; if you have seen one, you have seen all; if you have seen one real living green blade, you have seen the spring, and he who has seen the spring has seen the summer with all her chaplet and all her flowing robe of beauty, and has felt on his cheek the soft breath of her mouth. We make a great mistake in not enlarging the parables. As the butterfly came out of that poor little home, so shall thy better self clothe its nakedness with a house that is from heaven. There is a natural beauty and there is a spiritual beauty, and all things are growing and growing to higher meanings and wider applications. O man, believe it, and stand up a host a thousand strong in the almightiness of God!
II. The Apostle, having lifted up our minds into these high figures and prophecies, says, Now let us return to our work: 'Therefore'. 'Therefore' in this instance is an emphatic word; it brings together lines and threads of reasoning and illustration, and it presents the whole argument in the form of business, activity, service. Therefore, because all these things shall be, because we shall triumph over the grave and taunt the enemy that we feared; therefore, up, work, serve, repeat all you have done for God through Christ with a heartier energy and a fuller sufficiency of strength and enthusiasm. Hope is to end in service, is to be the very inspiration of service, and is to be the guarantee of the reward of service. Christianity with its high levels, its great wide firmaments and great doctrine, has also its earthly duties, its domesticities, its neighbourliness, its willingness to help and bless all within reach. This is the test of all true religion.
III. The great inspiration of service is hope, and that hope we find in the great argument of the Apostle Paul in this very chapter. There is not one pessimistic tone in the whole argument. The Apostle faces his great subject and conquers it by the grace of Christ. He says, I am going to talk, not about death only, but about Resurrection; not about the law only, but about Christ; and I will show you how we have all the promises on our side, and I am going to sound a long rousing bugle note that will call men back from their pessimism and their distress and give them heart again. If you have no hope you cannot work with any real good and lasting effect. A preacher cannot do so if he is preaching to indifferent people. The merchantman cannot be his true and strongest self if he is always on the sunless side of the wall. Put into a man the spirit of hope, and you give him strength, nerve, assurance that all will be right by-and-by.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. IV. p. 2.
The Stability of Faith
1 Corinthians 15:58
Stedfast and unmoveable. One is almost tempted to ask if these words have any application to present times and conditions. They seem rather to carry us back into a world which we have left far behind, a dull, old-fashioned, antiquated world in which all things were stationary, and the customs of each generation were handed down to its successor, and men were contented to follow the light which had guided their fathers, jogging on in the old paths, and setting their faces against all innovations and changes. There is little of that left now. The world in which we have our being is perpetually on the move. We are told that there is no longer any fixity in religious beliefs; that cloudy and obscure problems have taken the place of firm assurances; that men are drifting away from the moorings to which they were securely anchored, and that the very Church has been driven from its solid ground to shifting sands. Were this true, which I do not for a moment admit, save as an extravagant exaggeration, it would not be greatly surprising. It would only show that religion is affected by the temper of the times, and is feeling somewhat the spirit of restlessness and change which is heaving, wrestling, shaking, and disturbing all things.
I. You cannot point to any department or sphere of life in which there is stability of thought, unity of mind, and settled convictions. All questions are in a state of solution, all opinions are seething in a melting-pot ready to come out with a brand-new face. The air is thick with the sounds of clamour, dissensions, and debate. Old policies, old principles, old watchwords and shibboleths, are being tried in the fire and found wanting. Religion is bound to be touched and influenced by this deep and widespread unrest. It cannot be insensible to the heavings which are going on all around it, yet I venture to say that its vital faith and root-principles are less disturbed by them than any other region of human thought. People who are incessantly talking about the unsettlement in Christian beliefs forget the greater unsettlement which is everywhere else, and they make incomparably more of Christian divisions and uncertainties than the facts justify. The wish is often father to the thought. They see only what they desire to see. They are men whose own convictions are unsettled, and always have been, and they like to believe that their own minds represent the general mind. They are for the most part men who stand outside the Church, or hang on the extreme fringe of it. They see only its surface movements, and do not read its deeper heart and steadfast purpose. In fact, the great marching host of Christ's people knows very little about the unsettlement which is everywhere advertised. It is too busy in the Master's work to take heed to every changeful wind that blows, and too calmly confident of its faith to be made nervous by every shout and whisper of alarm. The bulk of real and earnest Christian people are steadfast, if not immovable.
II. We all move with the movements of the age; we cannot help it. We feel the pulse of the human throng, and throb with it. We move as an oak-tree moves when it grows and expands, and its branches are shaken and pruned by the storm, but the roots remain steadfast and unshaken. The whole Church has moved in the last twenty-five years, just as you have moved. But there is nothing in the range of modern things which has been so little shaken in its vital beliefs and foundations as Christ's Church and the Christian faith. All the grand certainties which are given in this chapter abide with us. There are few wholehearted Christians who cannot say, with St. Paul, 'I have kept the faith'. There are few who cannot say, with Jesus, 'All that thou hast given Me I have kept, save that which had to be lost because untrue'. Where everything else has changed, the great Christian beliefs remain steadfast and immovable.
III. And really it is most desirable, and even imperative, that we should have a measure of steadfastness in these things, if we are stirred and shaken in all things else. The just man lives by his faith, he cannot afford to have it always in a state of transition. He cannot afford to have it always simmering in the melting-pot, and wondering how it will come out at the next stage. Life is not long enough for that business. It is crucifying to have the mind always on tenterhooks and to have the heart always unsettling itself to make a new settlement. Some people are always proclaiming the glory of uncertainty and the surpassing excellence of doubt. I do not covet that sort of glory, or aspire to that sort of excellence.
A man who would do life's work well and help others to do it must fix himself on certain great beliefs and regard them as steadfast and immovable. He cannot waste his energies in perpetual re-examination and re-testing and dissecting of them. We ought to be certain that there is an eternal future, a personal immortality, and a judgment to come which no man can escape. We should be assured that the great Christian verities cannot be shaken, and be determined that, so far as we are concerned, they shall not be shaken; that the Bible, on the whole, is to be trusted as God's revelation and our guide; that Christ is our Divine, unerring Master, whose words will abide though all things else dissolve, and that, following Him, we have clear light for the earthly journey and a safe Pilot through the dark unknown beyond.
J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 56.
References. XV. 58. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1111. G. A. Sowter, From Heart to Heart, p. 186. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines (1st Series), p. 60. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 156. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 377. Archbishop Davidson, ibid. vol. lix. p. 67. A. H. Moncur Sime, ibid. vol. liv. p. 38. XV. 63. W. J. Knox-Little, ibid. vol. xlix. p. 267. XVI. 1. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 340. XVI. 1-8. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 323; ibid. vol. ix. p. 259. XVI. 2. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 367. XVI. 4.- Ibid. vol. i. p.. 406. XVI. 5. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p. 387; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 441. XVI. 8, 9. Ibid. vol. xi. p. 207.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany