CHRIST A DYING AND A RISEN SAVIOUR
1 Corinthians 15:1-2. Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
SCARCELY had the good seed of the Gospel been sown in the world, before Satan, by his agents, scattered tares, which in the earlier stages of their growth could not easily be distinguished from them, and from which the field will never be wholly freed until the harvest. The resurrection itself, that most fundamental doctrine of Christianity, on which every other doctrine rests, was denied by many. A Sadducean spirit of infidelity was imported into the Church from among the Jewish converts, as a vain philosophy was from among the Gentiles; and both concurred to bring into doubt the resurrection from the dead;—the one denying that it ever could take place, and the other asserting that it was only a mystical change which had taken place already: and between them both “the faith of many was overthrown.” St. Paul therefore, in the close of this epistle, set himself to counteract these errors, and to establish, for the benefit of the Church in all future ages, the truth which he had invariably maintained. He first shews that Christ had risen; and from thence he proceeds to prove that we also shall rise in like manner. But it is with the former position alone that we are concerned at present, that alone being referred to in the words before us; from which we shall be led to shew you,
I. What was the Gospel which Paul preached—
This is told us more fully in the words following our text.
The Apostle preached, that Christ had both died and risen according to the Scriptures—
[The Scriptures of the Old Testament had invariably asserted that Christ should suffer, and that he should rise again on the third day. Both these things were in some degree intimated in the first promise, that “the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head;” but they were more plainly revealed in the institutions of the Mosaic law, especially in the ordinance of the two birds; the one of which was killed, and the other, when dipped in the blood of the one that had been killed, being suffered to fly away [Note: Leviticus 14:49-53.]: as also in the appointment of the scape-goat, which carried into the wilderness all the sins which had been previously expiated by the blood of another goat that had been slain [Note: Leviticus 16:8-10.]. Both the one and the other had also been subjects of prophecy; his death being foretold in all its minutest circumstances — — — and his resurrection being fixed to a precise time after it, even the third day, before any change towards corruption should have taken place upon his body [Note: Jonah 1:17. Psalms 16:9-10.].
What the Scriptures had thus plainly foretold, was in due time accomplished. The death of Christ was known to the whole Jewish nation, thousands of whom were spectators of it: nor was his resurrection less clearly ascertained; as even the falsehood invented to conceal it fully attests. The variety of occasions on which our Lord appeared to his Disciples after his resurrection, once to above five hundred brethren at once, left no possibility of doubt respecting it [Note: ver. 5–8.]: and to testify of this was the great work committed, in the first instance to the the twelve Apostles, and afterwards to the Apostle Paul, to whom Jesus appeared in a vision, on purpose that he might be, in that respect, on a par with all the other Apostles.]
This he calls the Gospel—
[This, in truth, is the Gospel: and it comprehends all that is necessary for us to know. That “Christ died for our sins, and rose again for our justification,” is the sum and substance of that mystery, which God from all eternity devised for the redemption of fallen man, and which is unfolded to us in the writings of the New Testament. We may expatiate upon the various parts of this mystery, so as to exhibit them more clearly and fully to your view; but we can never add to it: to attempt to add any thing to it, were to destroy it utterly. There is no redemption but through the death of Christ; no salvation, but through his renovated life [Note: Romans 5:10.] — — —]
St. Paul having stated what the Gospel is, proceeds to shew—
II. In what manner it should be regarded by us—
The Corinthians “had received it into their hearts.” and were at that time “standing in it;” and this shews us what we also must do—
1. We must “receive it” into our hearts by faith—
[We must “receive it” as true. There must be no doubt in our minds respecting it. We must have no more doubt of Christ expiating our guilt by his death, or of his
rising to carry on in heaven the work he began on earth, than of our own existence. We must be thoroughly established in these great and fundamental truths. To question either the one or the other of them in any degree, were little better than to renounce Christianity altogether.
We must receive it also as suitable, yea, as exactly suited to our necessities. We must feel that we need precisely such an atonement as he offered for us; and that we also need a living Saviour, who shall make continual intercession for us with the Father, and communicate to us, out of his own inexhaustible fulness, all those supplies of grace and strength as our necessities require. It is this view of the correspondence between the offices of Christ and our necessities, and a consequent affiance in him for the supply of our wants, that constitutes the very essence of saving faith.
We must receive it also as sufficient for us. This great mystery of godliness is absolutely perfect. Nothing can be added to it. And of this we should be fully convinced. We should see that there is in his death a sufficient “propitiation for the sins of the whole world:” and that there is in him such a fulness of all spiritual gifts, that “he is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him.”
In this way is his Gospel to be received, and thus it is that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”]
2. We must “stand fast in it” even to the end—
[Nothing must be suffered to turn us away from this faith. We must brave all persecutions, and rather lay down our life than deny the Saviour in any manner. “It is he only who will lose his life for Christ’s sake, that shall find it unto life eternal.” Nor must we yield to the influence of temptations of any kind, so as to be drawn aside by them. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” if enjoyed in ever so great a degree, will but ill repay us for the loss which we shall sustain by suffering them to choke the good seed of Gospel truth: for “if any man draw back, my soul,” says God, “shall have no pleasure in him.” Neither must Satan, that subtle adversary, prevail against us by his devices. In ten thousand ways will he endeavour to “turn us from the simplicity that is in Christ:” but with “the sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith” we must resist him till we are crowned with victory, and see him “bruised under our feet.” We shall then, and then only, “be partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:14.].”]
In the Corinthians themselves we see,
III. The benefits that will accrue to those who duly receive it—
St. Paul says of them, that “they were saved by it:” and this benefit we confidently assure to all who embrace the Gospel with their whole hearts.
1. They shall be brought into a state of acceptance with God—
[When our Lord gave his Disciples their commission to preach his Gospel, he expressly authorized them to declare, that “all who believed it should be saved.” And in all the book of God there is not to be found so much as one single word against a penitent believer. “All who believe,” says St. Paul, “are justified from all things:” even sins of a crimson dye are so washed as to be made “white as snow.”]
2. They shall have the earnest and foretaste of the heavenly glory—
[There is no limit to the blessings promised to the true believer. The Spirit of God shall be poured out upon him, to reveal all the Father’s love, and all the glory of Christ, to the soul. “He will glorify Christ, and take of the things that are his, and shew them unto us.” He will be in us “a Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry, Abba, Father:” He “will witness to our spirits that we are the children of God:” He will give us “an earnest of our eternal inheritance,” and “seal us unto the day of complete redemption.”]
3. They shall be brought in safety to the full possession of their everlasting inheritance—
[It is here supposed that they “stand fast in the faith;” for if they “make shipwreck of the faith,” they cannot hope for the blessings which are promised to those only who “endure unto the end.” Hence is that caution given in our text; “Ye are saved, if ye keep in memory (and hold fast to the end) what I have preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” If our faith be only a dead faith, it will be in vain: for in this sense even “the devils believe and tremble.” But, if our faith be living and lively, we need not fear. That never shall be exercised in vain. That shall overcome every thing that is opposed to it, and shall remove all the mountains that oppose our spiritual progress. Only live truly by faith on the Son of God as having loved you and given himself for you, and God pledges himself that “none shall ever pluck you out of his hands,” and that “you shall never perish, but shall have everlasting life.” By the exercise of this “faith you shall be kept by the power of God to a full and everlasting salvation;” for the Gospel still is, no less than in the Apostolic age, “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”]
We would improve this subject,
1. In a way of inquiry—
[Have you received this Gospel as you ought? We ask not whether you have a mere notional and speculative belief of it; for that is common to all who bear the Christian name: but have you such a faith in Christ as enables you to rejoice in all that he has done, and is yet doing, for you? Do you glory in him, and renounce every other ground of hope, and “cleave to him with full purpose of heart?” Do not deceive yourselves in relation to these things; for no faith is saving but that which brings you daily to the foot of his cross, and causes you to receive daily out of his fulness all the blessings which you stand in need of.]
2. In a way of caution—
[Those who are fettered by human systems pass over such cautions as are given in our text: but we dare not act thus. We are persuaded that cautions against apostasy are as necessary in their place as promises of perseverance. Attend then to the caution about “holding fast” what has been preached to you. Innumerable are the cautions given us in the Scriptures upon this head: and it is by a salutary fear of apostasy that God will keep us [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.]. “Beware then lest, being led away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own steadfastness [Note: 2 Peter 3:17.].” Know where your strength is, even in your risen and exalted Saviour; and live altogether by faith in him, “holding fast your confidence, and the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:6.].”]
3. In a way of encouragement—
[Cleave thus unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and “ye shall be saved.” However numerous or powerful your enemies may be, they shall not prevail against you: for “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” If indeed Christ be not able to keep you, then you may well give way to fears: but, if his death be a sufficient atonement for the sins of the whole world, and all power in heaven and in earth be committed to him for the use of his Church and people, then you may dismiss all fear: for, though only a worm in yourselves, you shall “thresh the mountains.” Be strong then, ye fearful and faint-hearted: for “he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but will bring forth judgment unto victory.” He has said that “of those who have been given him he will lose none;” and he is faithful who hath promised. “Fear not; only believe: and according to your faith it shall be unto you.”]
ALL OF GRACE
1 Corinthians 15:10. By the grace of God I am what I am.
EVERY one, however exalted, may find points of comparison in which he is inferior to others; and, instead of envying the superiority of others in those respects, it becomes him contentedly to acquiesce in the Divine appointments, and thankfully to adore God for whatever blessings he enjoys.
St. Paul, in descanting upon the resurrection of our Lord, has occasion to mention the different manifestations of himself which Christ had vouchsafed to his Apostles after he had risen from the dead. And in these respects, as well as in the advantages which the other Apostles had enjoyed from the instructions and example of their Divine Master, during the whole period of his ministry on earth, he acknowledged his inferiority to them: for though at a subsequent period Christ had honoured him also with an immediate sight of his person, he considered himself as far less honoured by this than the other Apostles had been; and, having been himself a persecutor, whilst they were the faithful servants of their Lord, he regarded himself as no better than an abortion in comparison of the children. But still he was not without many grounds of thankfulness, which he was most ready to acknowledge: “I am not worthy to be called an Apostle,” says he; “but by the grace of God I am what I am.”
This declaration of his we propose to consider in a two-fold point of view:
I. As a speculative truth—
1. This assertion was true in the Apostle’s case—
[View him in his first conversion, and there can be no doubt but that the mercy vouchsafed to him was all of grace. He was a bitter persecutor of the Church of Christ. He was a volunteer in this bloody service: and, of his own accord, sought from the Jewish Sanhedrim a commission to search out, even in a foreign country, all who professed the Christian faith, and to bring them indiscriminately, whether men or women, bound to Jerusalem. In this very employment he was actually engaged, and was come near to the very city where he hoped to seize the victims of his cruel bigotry, when the Lord Jesus Christ arrested him in his mad career, and by his special grace converted him to the faith which he was labouring to destroy [Note: Acts 22:4-8.]. It is further observable, that he alone of all the party heard distinctly the voice that spake to him, though they beheld the light which shined with preternatural splendour round about them [Note: Acts 9:7. with 22:9.]: and he alone of all the party, as far as we know, was converted unto God. What was there in his spirit and conduct that merited such a merciful distinction? Or to what can we refer this mercy but to the free and sovereign grace of God? Here we are compelled to acknowledge an election altogether of grace: and in this interpretation of the event we are fully justified by the assertion of St. Paul, who traces it to a determination of the Deity long previous to the period when it took place, even to a fore-ordained “separation of him from his mother’s womb [Note: Galatians 1:15.].”
Through the whole of his subsequent life the mercies vouchsafed to him must be traced to the same source. All his eminent attainments, and all his super-abundant labours, were fruits of the same electing love, and the same effectual grace. This he confessed to the latest hour of his life: he declared, that “in him, that is, in his flesh, dwelt no good thing [Note: Romans 7:18.];” and that his sufficiency even for so much as a good thought was altogether of God alone [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]. And in reference to this truth he displayed in the passage before us a peculiar jealousy: for being, in vindication of himself, constrained to say, that he had laboured more abundantly than any other of the Apostles, he adds with holy jealousy for the honour of his God, “yet not I” “yet, not I, but the grace of God that was with me [Note: ver. 10.].”
Thus, to say the least, respecting the Apostle Paul the assertion in our text was true, “By the grace of God he was what he was.” But,]
2. It is true with respect to us also—
[What is the state of every man previous to his conversion? Are we not all “dead in trespasses and sins?” Have we not a “carnal mind that is enmity against God?” Do we not “walk according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind?” and are we not all “children of wrath, even as others?” What then is there in us that can operate as a motive with God to bestow his grace upon us rather than upon others? It is clear enough, that the same word which operates effectually on some to the conversion of their souls, produces on others no other effect than that of exciting greater hostility against the Gospel [Note: Acts 18:6-8.]. To what can this be ascribed but to the sovereign grace of God, whose gifts are his own, and who divideth to every man severally as he will? It is also plain, that many under less advantageous circumstances are turned from the power of Satan unto God, whilst others, with far greater advantages, are left still in bondage to sin and Satan: And what other account can be given of this, than that which our Lord himself supplies, “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.]?”
During the whole remainder of our lives it is the same grace which operates even to the end. Demas apostatizes; and Luke perseveres [Note: Compare Colossians 4:14. with 2 Timothy 4:10-11.]: Peter repents; and Judas commits suicide: Blessed Saviour, who would not prove chaff, if thou didst leave him to be sifted by his great adversary? and whose faith would not fail, if thou didst not intercede for him in the hour of trial [Note: Luke 22:31-32.]? If any one of us be kept unto salvation, it is by thy power and grace alone [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.]: thou, who hast been “the Author of our faith, must also be the Finisher [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]:” and, when the head-stone of thy spiritual temple shall be brought forth, we must cry, “Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zechariah 4:7.].”
Thus in our own case, as well as in the Apostle’s, the glory of all that is good must be given to God alone; who “hath loved us with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness hath he drawn us [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.].”]
But from the speculative view of the Apostle’s assertion, let us proceed to notice it,
II. As a practical acknowledgment—
Speculation is of no further value than as it leads to practical results. But the forementioned truth is discarded by many under the idea of its being replete with injury to the souls of men. In its source, it is supposed to spring from pride; and in its tendency to lead to a total disregard of all moral virtue. Let us then inquire into,
1. Its source—
[Does it indeed proceed from pride? Those who cannot endure the thought of God’s sovereignty, will affirm confidently that it does: and in reference to all who maintain the doctrine of election, they will exclaim, “These men fancy themselves the special favourites of heaven.” But let me ask, Who are the proud? they who acknowledge themselves to be only as parts of one vast mass of clay, of which the potter, agreeably to his own sovereign will, and for the praise of the glory of his own grace, has taken a part, to form of it a vessel of honour for his own use [Note: Romans 9:21.]; or those who assert that they were selected because they were of a finer quality than the mass that was left behind? Who are the proud? they who say with the Apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am;” or those who say, “By my own strength, and on account of my own superior goodness, I am what I am?” Who, I say, are the proud? they who accept heaven solely as the free gift of God in Christ Jesus; or they who expect to purchase it at a price which they themselves shall pay? The belief of the doctrines of predestination and election is not founded in pride, but in humility, and in a deep conviction that we are nothing, and have nothing, and can do nothing, but what of itself deserves God’s wrath and indignation. It is the denial of these doctrines that proceeds from pride; because it argues a conceit that we have something originally, and of ourselves, which merits the distinction that we hope for in a future world, and to which our ultimate salvation must, in part at least, if not altogether, be ascribed. Will any man say that Paul was actuated by pride, when he said, “Whom God did predestinate, them he also called, and justified, and glorified [Note: Romans 8:30. See also Ephesians 1:4-6; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11 and 2 Timothy 1:9.]?” — — — No man ever had a higher sense of the dignity conferred upon him, than Paul had: nor had ever man a deeper sense of his own unworthiness: “I am less than the least of all saints:” “I am nothing [Note: Ephesians 3:8. 2 Corinthians 12:11.].” And the more deeply we feel our unworthiness, the more cordially shall we acquiesce in his humiliating statements of the freeness and sovereignty of divine grace.]
2. Its tendency—
[A belief of these doctrines, it is supposed, will produce a laxness in morals. But was the Apostle regardless of morality? or is a deeper sense of obligation to God likely to produce in any mind a less disposition to fulfil his will? Surely its proper tendency is the very reverse of this, even to foster in us every holy disposition towards both God and man.
Towards God—a sense of our entire dependence on his sovereign will, and of our obligation to his sovereign grace, will excite a feeling of gratitude, such as Paul speaks of, when he says, “The love of Christ constraineth me.” “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?” is the question which every one will ask, when once he sees, that “not according to any works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy God has saved us [Note: Titus 3:4-5.].” If once we have a good hope, that we are of “the chosen generation, and of God’s peculiar people,” we shall exert ourselves to “shew forth in every possible way the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].”
Towards man also will these sentiments operate in the most favourable way that can be imagined. A sense of God’s electing love will fill us with compassion towards those who are ignorant and out of the way. We shall not, like the proud Pharisee, despise others, but pity them; we shall not say, “Stand off, I am holier than thou;” but shall bear in mind, who it is that has made us to differ even from the most abandoned of mankind [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]. And, if a brother fall, we shall not exult over him, but shall endeavour rather to restore him in meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted [Note: Galatians 6:1.].
We will readily grant that there are many truly pious, and even eminent, Christians, who do not embrace systematically, and in profession, the doctrines of predestination and election: but no pious man will ever arrogate merit to himself, or make himself the first moving cause of his own salvation. There is not a saint either in heaven or earth who will not cordially and from his inmost soul confess, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And, if only the whole glory of our salvation be given to God alone, we are not anxious to press the matter farther, or to insist on terms which they are not willing to admit: if only from their souls they unite in the practical acknowledgment of our text, we will be content to leave the speculative points deduced from it to the judgment of the great day.]
Before we close the subject, we will yet farther notice what it contains—
1. For our instruction—
[The Apostle ascribed his privileges and attainments to the grace of God: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” What then must they do who are yet afar off from God, and have no part with the Apostle either in his privileges or attainments? Let them seek grace from God: let them not trust in their own goodness or strength, but look simply to the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom “they may both obtain mercy, and find grace to help them in the time of need.” If only they will renounce all dependence on themselves, they shall receive from the God of all grace a sufficiency for all their wants.]
2. For our encouragement—
[Who is it that utters the acknowledgment in our text? What, Saul? Saul the blasphemer; Saul the persecutor? Yes, it is even so. But tell us, Paul, what thou didst to obtain this grace? Didst thou not earn it? No. Didst thou not merit it? No. Didst thou not even seek it? No. And yet it was given thee? Yes, when I was in the very act of fighting against God with all my might. Then who shall despair? Who shall say, The grace of God can never reach me; or, if given, can never operate effectually in me? Verily, no man on this side the grave has any reason to despair. Hear what the Apostle says: he tells us that God’s particular design in so converting him was, to keep all others from despair; and to make him a pattern and example of his long-suffering to all future generations [Note: 1 Timothy 1:16.]. Hear this, ye who are ready to entertain desponding fears; and know assuredly, that God’s grace is his own; that he may give it to whomsoever he will; and that there is not a creature in the universe for whom it shall not be effectual, if he will but seek it in sincerity and truth.]
THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
1 Corinthians 15:17-18. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins: then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
THE wisest among the heathen philosophers could not speak with any certainty respecting the future existence of the soul: they could only form conjectures respecting it; so little could unassisted reason do towards the ascertaining of this most important point. As for the resurrection of the body, they deemed it ridiculous and absurd; and considered it as impossible that atoms, so widely dispersed and so variously combined, should ever be reduced to their original form. The Gospel, however, has brought life and immortality to light; and assured us, not only that every soul shall exist in a future world, but that the bodies of men also shall rise out of their graves, and be re-united each to that very soul that once inhabited it. Nevertheless, some, who made a profession of Christianity, were still blinded by the prejudices which they had formerly imbibed. Hence they explained the doctrine of the resurrection in a figurative manner; and said, that it was passed already. The Apostle, therefore, set himself to counteract this dangerous delusion, by proving that there should indeed be a resurrection of the body This he proved from what was fully believed among them, the resurrection of Christ: he shewed, that, if Christ was actually risen, there could be no reason why we should not rise in like manner; but that, on the contrary, his resurrection was a pattern and an earnest of ours. In order to give additional weight to this argument, he proves incontestibly that Christ himself had risen; he proves it, I say, by an appeal to numberless living witnesses who had seen him: and then he sets before them three most tremendous consequences which would follow, on a supposition that he was not risen: “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins; then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” This argument of the Apostle’s being of the greatest importance, we will endeavour,
I. To confirm;
II. To improve it.
I. To confirm his argument—It consists of three parts, which he mentions as consequences that will follow from a denial of Christ’s resurrection—
1. If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain—
The Christian, as long as he is in the world, is called to the exercise of faith: he walks by faith, and not by sight: he lives upon a Saviour whom he has never seen with his bodily eyes, and receives a supply of every want out of his fulness. By faith we view Jesus as a surety: we consider him as having discharged our debt: this is the ground on which we hope that our sins shall never be put to our account. We believe what the Scripture says, that “it was exacted of him and he was made answerable;” and that his death was a sufficient compensation for the debt which we had incurred. But what proof have we that he has paid the debt, if he be not risen? We may suppose that he undertook to pay it; and that he laid down his life in order to pay it; but this will by no means prove that he has fully satisfied the demands of law and justice. If a man that has become our surety remain in prison, it is a sign that he has not made good the payment which he had taken upon himself; but if he be set free, we then conclude that the creditors have been satisfied. So, if Christ had yet been confined in the prison of the grave, we might have concluded that the debt was yet unpaid; and consequently, our faith in him as our surety would have been vain and delusive: for, notwithstanding all which Jesus might have done for us, there would yet have remained some part of the debt to be discharged by us, and we must therefore have despaired of ever obtaining happiness in the eternal world.
Again: By faith we view Jesus as an Advocate. We are still offending daily in many things; so that, notwithstanding we have been reconciled to God, we should soon provoke him to withdraw his mercy from us, and to shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure. But the Scripture says, that, “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” By faith, we look to him to intercede for us; to plead our cause; and to maintain our peace with God. But what ground have we for such a hope if Christ be not risen? Instead of being in heaven to plead our cause, he still lies in the bowels of the earth: instead of living to promote our interests, he is no better than a senseless and inanimate corpse. How vain therefore must be our expectations, when we indulge the thought of his prevailing intercessions! We are but buoying up ourselves with groundless hopes, and weaving a web which shall soon be swept away by the besom of destruction.
Once more:—By faith we view Jesus as a Head of all vital influences. The Scripture speaks of him as the vine, and us as the branches; and represents him as “Head over all things to the Church.” We look therefore to him that we may receive out of his fulness: we expect grace and peace from him to be communicated to us in the hour of need: we consider ourselves as withered branches, when separated from him, and as no longer having a capacity to bring forth any fruit than while we are united to him, and derive sap and nourishment from him. But what a delusion must this be, if Christ be not risen! If he be not risen, he is still dead: and how can that which is destitute of life impart life to us? What can we possibly receive from him if he be still imprisoned in the grave? We see, then, that whether we regard him as our Surety, our Advocate, or our Head, our faith is vain if he be not risen; yea, we are left under the most deplorable error and delusion that ever engrossed the mind of man.
The next consequence that would follow upon a denial of Christ’s resurrection would be, that we should be yet in our sins.
It is the believer’s privilege to be free from sin, and to stand in the presence of God without spot or blemish. But this removal of his sins depends upon various circumstances, which are grounded upon the resurrrection of Christ.
In the first place, the removal of our sins depends on the truth of our Lord’s mission: and the truth of his mission stands or falls with his resurrection. Our Lord constantly spoke of his resurrection on the third day as the grand proof which should be given of his Divine mission. Whether he spoke to friends or enemies, still this he proposed as the test whereby to try the truth of all he said; insomuch that his enemies were peculiarly solicitous to prevent, if possible, the accomplishment of these predictions; knowing that, if they should be fulfilled, the authority of his mission would be fully established. Now let us suppose for a moment that Christ had not risen, what must we have concluded? Surely, that he was an impostor; that he had deceived his followers by specious pretences; and that, so far from being able to remove our guilt, he perished under the weight of his own most accumulated wickedness.
Again: The removal of our sins depends on the acceptance of his sacrifice. He offered himself as a sacrifice to God, in order that he might expiate our offences; and on the acceptance of this, our eternal happiness depends: if God receive it as an offering of a sweet-smelling savour, we may hope he will be propitious to us on account of it; but if he do not declare himself well-pleased with it, we are left altogether without a remedy. Now how shall it be known whether God has accepted it or not? If we are to judge by the circumstances of our Lord’s death, we should rather conclude that the Father took no pleasure in him, since our Lord himself so bitterly complained of the dereliction which he experienced in the very hour of his extremity. We must judge therefore by his resurrection: and that this was to be the test is evident from the sacrifices which were under the law. It was not consistent with the Divine will that the beasts that were sacrificed should be restored to life; but yet this was done in a figure: for one goat was slain to expiate sin by his blood, and another goat was sent away into the wilderness, laden with the iniquities of all the people. So when birds were offered; one was slain, and another was dipped in the blood of that which was slain, and then let loose into the air. These were types of our Saviour, who was first to be slain, and then to be raised from the dead, and ascend into the highest heavens; and if he had not risen, we should have had no proof whatever that his sacrifice was accepted. Yet on the acceptance of this sacrifice the removal of our sins entirely depended; so that if Christ be not risen, we must be yet in our sins.
Once more: The removal of our sins depends on our Lord’s execution of his office. Our Lord undertook the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King; and though he did in part fulfil these offices on earth, yet he fulfilled them only in part; the principal accomplishment of them remained to take place after he should be seated in heaven: he was then, as the great Prophet of the Church, to reveal the will of God more fully, and teach by his Spirit those, who, for want of a divine illumination, could not comprehend the truths he had delivered. As the great High Priest, he was to enter within the vail: it was not sufficient that the high priest offered the sacrifice on the day of atonement; he was also to carry the blood into the holy of holies, to sprinkle it on the mercy-seat, to offer incense, and then to come out and bless the people. So, our Lord was under a necessity of rising again, that he might enter into heaven with his own blood, that he might there present it before the mercy-seat; and that, after offering the incense of his continual intercession, he might, in due time, come forth to bless the people. As a King, also, he had only as yet asserted his kingly office and authority; it was necessary therefore that he should go to the right hand of God, and there sit till all his enemies should be made his footstool. Now, if he did not rise, he cannot execute any of these offices; and yet upon the execution of them depends the removal of our sins: so then, if he be not risen, we are yet in our sins.
We see therefore, that, as the removal of our sins depends on the truth of his mission, the acceptance of his sacrifice, and the execution of his offices; and as all these depend on his resurrection, we must, if he be not risen, be yet in our sins.
A third consequence that would follow from the denial of Christ’s resurrection is, that they also who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished. Death to the believer is only as a sleep; it has lost its sting: and as he commends himself to the Divine protection when he lies down upon his bed, so he commits his departing spirit into his Saviour’s hands, and falls asleep in Christ; and while his body lies mouldering in the dust, his soul is carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom: but if Christ be not risen, all who from the beginning of the world have fallen asleep in Christ have perished: either their souls have been annihilated at their separation from the body; or rather they have become the monuments of God’s wrath and indignation.
For, in the first place, all that have fallen asleep in Christ, have, on a supposition that Christ is not risen, built their hopes on a sandy foundation. They have relied wholly on the merit of Christ’s blood, and expected justification only through his obedience unto death: and, as they have trusted in his righteousness, so have they gloried in his strength; not going forth against any enemy, but in his name, and in reliance upon his grace: nor have they trusted in any thing but in his continual intercession for maintaining their peace with God. In short, they have made Christ their only foundation, on whom they have built all their hopes. Now if Christ be not risen, that foundation has failed them, and consequently all the superstructure must fall to the ground: so that, notwithstanding all their affiance in him, they are perished; yea, though they committed their departing spirits into his hands, they were not saved: for he could not help them; he could not hear their prayer: in trusting to him they trusted only to a broken reed, which now pierces them through with unutterable and everlasting anguish.
Again: If Christ be not risen, they are perished; because, however zealous they were of good works, their works were not sufficient to justify them before God. We cannot indeed conceive more eminent piety than Abraham discovered in leaving his country and sacrificing his own son; or than David manifested in his incessant praises and thanksgivings; or than Stephen shewed when laying down his life for Christ, and praying for his murderers. And yet behold what the text asserts; “they all are perished if Christ be not risen.” The reason is plain: they were transgressors of God’s law; as transgressors, they were subject to the curse and condemnation of the law; nor could any thing less than an infinitely valuable atonement remove that curse. In vain they prayed; in vain they strove; in vain they endeavoured to do the will of God; in vain they laid down their lives for his sake; they were under the curse; and cursed they must be, if Christ did not become their Saviour. But he could not become a Saviour to them if he did not rise; and therefore, if he be not risen, they are all, without exception, perished. They are perished; first, because their foundation failed them; and next, because, that having failed, no hope remained to them from any thing which they themselves could do. It is now plain, I trust, that the consequences which the Apostle states as following a denial of our Lord’s resurrection are true, and that his argument is strictly just. Having therefore confirmed his argument, we proceed,
II. To improve it—
It will be to little purpose to know the force of the Apostle’s reasoning, unless we deduce from it those practical inferences which may bring it home to our hearts and consciences.
First, then, We may see from hence how ignorant they are that seek salvation by works!
The generality of mankind are hoping to be saved for something which they have done, or something which they intend to do: indeed even those who have lived in all manner of evil tempers and sensual indulgences are yet often so blind, as to be the most strenuous in contending for the merit of good works, and in crying out against those who speak of salvation by faith. But do these people fancy themselves wiser and better than all the saints of old? Will any one say that Stephen was not an eminently pious man? Was he not chosen out by the people, because he was full of faith and the Holy Ghost? Was he not endued with peculiar gifts, insomuch that his adversaries could not resist the spirit and wisdom with which he spake? Did he not also manifest a peculiar excellence of disposition? Did he not with all fidelity charge the people’s sins upon them? and, when they were in the very act of stoning him, did he not, after the example of our Lord, pray for his murderers? Did he not willingly seal the truth with his blood? Was he not so highly honoured of God that his face was made to shine like the face of an angel? and was he not, even while in the body, favoured with a sight of God, and of Christ, as standing at the right hand of God? Say now, Where shall we find a man that bids more fair to be saved by his works than he? yet was he saved by his works? or could he be saved by his works? No. Notwithstanding all his works, he needed the blood of Christ to cleanse him from sin: he needed Christ, as his Advocate and Strength, his Saviour and his all; and if Christ be not in a capacity to save him, he is perished. Nor have his works availed him any thing more than to lessen in some degree the condemnation he would otherwise have endured. Who then art thou that seekest to be justified by thy works? Art thou as eminent as Stephen? if not, how canst thou hope to be saved, when even he, if he had no better ground of confidence than his own works, must have perished? Or suppose that thou wert as good as he, still thou must meet with the same fate; thou must perish, and that eternally, if thou rely on any thing but a crucified and exalted Saviour. Oh, then, blush at your ignorance, ye proud, self-justifying sinners! See how Satan has blinded your eyes! See how far ye are from the way of salvation! Oh, let me beseech you for Christ’s sake, and for your soul’s sake, to renounce all your self-righteous hopes and endeavours, and to rely on him who alone can save you, and who is able to save you to the uttermost.
Secondly. We may see from hence how miserable is the state of unbelievers!
By unbelievers, we mean, not only those who deliberately reject Christ, but all who do not actually enjoy an interest in him. Now these persons, whatever they may think of themselves, and however they may bless themselves because of the abundance of earthly things which they possess, are in as miserable a state as can well be conceived: for, as they have no interest in Christ, it is eventually the same to them as if he had never risen: only with this difference, that their guilt is much greater by neglecting the Saviour, than it could have been without such an aggravation. What then is their state? precisely that mentioned in the text; “their faith, as far as they have any, is all vain:” even though they assent to all which is spoken concerning Christ, ’tis all in vain: “They are yet in their sins;” all the load of their iniquities lies upon them, and the curse of God hangeth over their devoted head. They will also “perish” whenever they die; there cannot possibly be any admission for them into heaven: perish they must; and remain for ever the monuments of God’s displeasure. And now say, is not this a miserable state? What though a man have a large estate, can that make him happy? What though he have a form of godliness, can that make him happy! No: he must have an interest in Christ, or he will be a poor miserable wretch forever. Oh! my brethren, seek an interest in this risen Saviour: think of him, not only as dying for your offences, but as risen again for your justification: and be assured, that, as you shall be reconciled to God by the death of his Son, so, much more, being reconciled, you shall be saved by his life. Do not conclude too hastily that you have an interest in the Saviour: see whether you are “risen with him through a faith of the operation of God?” and never rest till you can say, “I know in whom I have believed.”
Lastly. We see from hence how happy is the state of true believers! The resurrection of Christ, which is the foundation of all their hopes, is proved beyond a possibility of doubt: the very means taken to conceal it are among the most convincing proofs of its reality. On the very same basis, your hopes are founded: he has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Think then with yourselves, that at this moment, your faith, so far from being in vain, avails for all the purposes for which it is exercised: it secures your interest in Christ as your Surety, Advocate, and Head; and brings in an abundance of all spiritual blessings to your soul. Instead of being in your sins, they are put away from you as far as the east is from the west; nor shall they evermore be remembered against you. God has already said concerning every such soul, as he did concerning Joshua; “Take away the filthy garments from him: behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.” Further—When you die, you will not perish with the ungodly world, but will go to take possession of a “kingdom.” You will have a crown of glory on your head, and a golden harp in your hand: you will be seated on your Saviour’s throne; and shall sing his praises for evermore. Happy soul! “what manner of love is this wherewith the Father hath loved thee!” Hail, thou that art highly favoured of the Lord! Rejoice, rejoice, thou servant of the Most High God! Thy Saviour, possessed of all power in heaven and in earth, watches over thee continually: he gives his angels charge over thee: he gives thee every thing that is for thy good: and though perhaps he deals with thee not exactly as thou mightest wish, he is daily preparing thee for glory, and making thee meet for thine inheritance. Oh, then, love and serve this risen Saviour; and set your affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Let it be your endeavour to keep your conversation in heaven: and while you are living upon the Saviour’s fulness, oh, strive to live to the glory of his name. Thus will you adorn your holy profession; and when he shall come again to receive you to himself, he will welcome you with these delightful words, “Come, thou blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for thee, from the foundation of the world!”
ADAM A TYPE OF CHRIST
1 Corinthians 15:22. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
THE fall of man in Adam, and his recovery in Christ, comprehend the whole circle of Divine truth: every part of the revealed will of God is so connected with these two doctrines, that all must stand or fall together. Our death implies the former of them; and our resurrection the latter. Hence St. Paul, proving the doctrine of the resurrection, adverts to our fall in Adam as an acknowledged truth, and draws a parallel between that and our recovery in Christ.
I. Establish the points mentioned in the text—
Nothing can be more certain than that “in Adam all died”—
[The penalty of eating the forbidden fruit was death, death temporal, spiritual, eternal: and, on the very day that Adam fell, the threatened punishment was inflicted on him, so far, at least, as could consist with God’s purposes towards the world at large: the seeds of death were implanted in his body; a spiritual death seized upon his soul; and everlasting death awaited him, unless divine mercy should interpose to deliver him from it. Nor was this a matter which concerned him alone; it involved both him and all his posterity, insomuch that all the human race fell in him, and became obnoxious to temporal, spiritual, eternal death. The very words of the text prove this; yea, they prove it more strongly than any mere assertion could do; because they state it as an allowed fact; and make it the foundation of a most important comparison. And we see it plainly before our eyes. We see that all in successive generations are swept away by death. And as to spiritual death, who does not see how awfully the whole world is “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, and because of the hardness of their hearts?” As to the eternal death, we see it not: but if we believe the word of God, we can have no doubt, but that thousands are descending daily into those dread abodes, where not so much as one ray of hope can ever enter.]
Nor is it less clear that “in Christ shall all be made alive”—
[Christ was sent into the world to repair the ruins of the fall. By his Spirit he “quickens the souls that were dead in trespasses and sins;” and by his obedience unto death he reconciles them to their offended God. This also is as visible as the former. Look around and see whether some be not endued with a new and heavenly life, whereby they are enabled to live wholly unto God — — — It is true, that the death of the body is still inflicted upon all: but this ceases to be a punishment to God’s people, and must rather be considered as a blessing: “To whomsoever it is Christ to live, it is gain to die [Note: Philippians 1:21.]:” and the body which is consigned for a while to its native dust, shall at last be raised again “in the likeness of Christ’s glorious body,” to participate the blessedness of its kindred soul. All this, I say, is restored to us in and through Christ, who on this very account calls himself “the resurrection and the life [Note: John 11:25.].”]
But both these points will be yet further confirmed, while we,
II. Shew the correspondence between them—
If it be asked, How did we die in Adam? and, How do we live in Christ? we answer;
1. By means of a federal relation to them—
[Neither Adam nor Christ are to be regarded as private individuals, but as the representatives of all mankind. Adam was the covenant head of the whole world: the covenant was made with him for himself and them: had he fulfilled the conditions imposed upon him, there is reason to believe, that the benefits of his obedience would have descended to his latest posterity. For beyond a doubt they are involved in the punishment of his disobedience, and consequently, we may infer that they would have been comprehended in the recompence of his obedience. The death of infants is a decisive evidence, that the sin of Adam is imputed to them; for death is the punishment of sin; and a righteous God will not inflict punishment, where it is not in some way or other merited; therefore they, who have never committed actual sin, and yet are punished, must have guilt imputed to them in some other way, or, in other words, must be chargeable with Adam’s guilt. This is the Apostle’s own statement; and his conclusion is irresistible [Note: Romans 5:12; Romans 5:14.].
Christ in the same manner was the head and representative of the elect world: what he did and suffered, he did and suffered in our place and stead; “he, who knew no sin, became sin for us, that we, who had no righteousness, might become the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].” St. Paul himself not only asserts this, but draws at considerable length this very parallel between Adam and Christ, in order to evince, that, so far from being injured by this constitution of things, we hare our loss in Adam far overbalanced by the remedy which God has given us in Christ [Note: Romans 5:15-21.].]
2. By the communication of their nature to us—
[Adam was formed after God’s image, pure and holy; but he begat children in his own fallen image, corrupt and sinful [Note: Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 5:3.]. Nor could he do otherwise; for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean [Note: Job 14:4.]?” The fountain being polluted, the streams that issued from it could not but participate of its malignant qualities. Hence it is that we are conceived in sin and born in iniquity [Note: Psalms 51:5.]; and that all, the Apostles themselves not excepted, “are by nature children of wrath [Note: Ephesians 2:3.].”
Thus Christ also imparts his nature to those whom he has chosen to share his benefits. He makes them “partakers of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.],” and transforms them into “the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.]:” “He himself lives in them [Note: Galatians 2:20.];” and thus renders them meet for eternal life, even for the inheritance of the saints in light [Note: Colossians 1:12.].
It is, however, proper to observe, that though all are said to die in Adam, and to be made alive in Christ, the benefits received from Christ do not extend to all that are affected by Adam’s fall; the word “all” must, in the latter clause, he taken in a more limited sense, and import that, as they, who were represented by Adam, and are partakers of his nature, die in him; so they, who were represented by Christ, and are partakers of his nature, shall live in him.]
1. How much of Christ may be seen even in the character of Adam himself!—
[Adam is expressly said to be “a figure of him that was to come [Note: Romans 5:14. The Greek.];” and Christ, in reference to him, is called the second Adam [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:45-47.]. Both of them were the representatives of their respective seeds; but, blessed be God! not with the same success: the one destroyed, the other saves, the souls committed to him. Let us then renounce, as far as possible, our connexion with him who has brought condemnation upon us, and seek an union with him, “through whose obedience we may be made righteous.”]
2. Of what importance is it to understand and receive the Gospel!—
[It is only by the Gospel that we can be acquainted with the work of Christ, and obtain an interest in him: if we know him not, we remain under all the disadvantages of the fall. It is this Gospel which gives to the least and meanest of us so great an advantage over all the philosophers of Greece and Rome. They saw in what a fallen state the world was: but how it became so, or how it could be remedied, they had no conception. We however know both the one and the other: we know that in Adam we died, and that in Christ we all may be made alive. True, this does not accord well with the dictates of corrupt reason. But to dispute about this doctrine is to no purpose: we are dead in Adam, whether we will believe it or not; nor can we obtain life, but in and through Christ. Let us then not reject the gracious overtures of Christ, but turn to him in this our time of acceptance, this day of our salvation.]
3. How thankful should we be for God’s distinguishing mercy to the sinners of mankind!—
[When angels fell, there was no Saviour provided for them: they were punished for the first offence, and will remain monuments of God’s indignation to all eternity; but we are spared, yea, are saved by the mediation of God’s co-equal Son [Note: Hebrews 2:16.]. Let heaven and earth praise him! and let every tongue now, as surely we shall hereafter, adore him for such unmerited, incomprehensible love!]
1 Corinthians 15:31. I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
THERE were many in the apostolic age who denied the resurrection of the dead [Note: ver. 12.]. St. Paul, in opposition to them, maintained the truth of that doctrine. In confirmation of his word, he asserted that he himself, no less than the other Apostles, had seen the Lord Jesus Christ in his risen state; and that, consequently, there must be a resurrection of the dead; more especially because the Lord Jesus did not rise as a mere individual, but as the head and forerunner of his people, even as the first-fruits before the harvest. He then appeals to his adversaries themselves, whether, upon any other hypothesis than that of a resurrection to a future life of blessedness and glory, it would be possible to account for the conduct of himself and all his fellow Apostles and fellow Christians; all of whom so readily encountered the severest trials that men could endure in this world, in the hope and prospect of approving themselves to God, and of being approved by Him in the day of judgment? “What shall they do who are baptized for the dead,” that is, in the room of the dead, like soldiers filling up the ranks of those who have been cut off, if the “dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? and why stand we in jeopardy every hour?” Then, for their conviction, he protests most solemnly before God, that this was his own experience, and that “he died daily.”
In considering these words, I will notice,
I. The Apostle’s experience—
He here declares the daily habit of his mind,
1. As the fruit and consequence of the persecutions he suffered—
[The Apostle preached the Gospel “with great plainness of speech.” By this he gave offence to multitudes, both of Jews and Gentiles, who with implacable animosity sought his life. He had not preached the Gospel many days before his enemies conspired to destroy him; and necessitated him, for the preservation of his life, to be let down in a basket from the battlements of a walled city. From that time he was in continual danger, never knowing but that the address he was delivering would prove his last. Truly, he was “in deaths oft [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:23.];” and “like a sheep appointed for the slaughter [Note: Romans 8:36.];” or like the gladiators, who were to engage in renewed combats till they died [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:9.]. In truth, he was regarded only as “the filth of the world, and as the off-scouring of all things;” fit only to be sacrificed for the pacifying of a d ζmon, or for the removal of a common plague [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:13.]. Thus “he was in jeopardy every hour of his life [Note: ver 30.];” and, as he expresses it in my text, “he died daily.”]
2. As wrought and cherished in his own soul—
[It is plain that this also is included in the expression before us; and that it forms, in fact, the very jet of his argument. ‘I protest,’ says he ‘that, as I am daily exposed to death for my ministrations, so I willingly submit to it in an assured prospect that I shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.’ He knew that, independently of his persecutions, his life was very uncertain, and that he could not call a day or an hour his own: and the murderous cruelty of his enemies rendered his continuance in life still more precarious. But he was willing to die at any time, and in any way, for his Master’s sake [Note: Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13.]: yea, “he desired to depart, and to be with Christ, as far better” than any thing he could attain in this life [Note: Philippians 1:23.]; and he accounted every moment of his continuance in the body as a privation of blessedness in the immediate presence of his Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:6-8.]. He knew, that, at the very instant of his departure from the body, he should “behold his Lord face to face [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12.];” and, that, at the day of judgment, his body also should be raised to “meet the Lord in the air, and to be for ever with the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:17.]:” and, under this conviction, he looked upon martyrdom itself as a ground of cordial self-congratulation and joy [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].]
This subject derives peculiar importance from,
II. The solemn manner in which he affirmed it—
He takes for granted that those, whom he addressed, rejoiced in Christ Jesus, even as he did: and he protests by their rejoicing, as well as by his own [Note: I think the marginal translation of “our” instead of “your,” decidedly preferable.], that this was indeed his experience from day to day. And from this protest we learn,
1. That this experience is not common—
[No, in truth: it is very rare even among “those who profess godliness.” That there is no such persecution now, as existed in the apostolic age, is certain; and, consequently, the preachers of the Gospel exercise not their ministry so much at the peril of their life: but there is as much need of zeal now as ever: and the servants of God are as much bound to be faithful in the discharge of their duty as ever; and they must be as ready to sacrifice their lives in the cause of their Divine Master as ever. There is to be no difference in these respects between the Apostles and us. If not called to endure the same trials as they, we must be willing to endure them, if called to it: and if we love our lives in comparison of Him and his glory, we shall lose our souls for ever.
As to looking forward to a longer stay on earth, we are no more entitled to indulge such a conceit than the Apostles were; for “we know not what a day or an hour may bring forth.” And it is our privilege to be anticipating the blessedness of heaven as much as it was theirs. We should count death amongst our treasures: and be “looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of Christ,” quite as much as they did in their devoutest frames — — —
But is this a common attainment? Would to God it were! But the generality of Christians put the day far from them, as though it were to be dreaded, rather than desired: and even the more godly amongst us live far below their privileges in this respect.]
2. That, however, it ought to be found in all who believe in Christ—
[He takes for granted, that all true Christians “rejoice in Christ.” And truly this is a distinctive character of them: and the man who has not in himself this evidence of his relation to Christ, has no sufficient reason to think that he belongs to Christ [Note: Philippians 3:3.]. But, supposing that we are really Christ’s, then should the Apostle’s experience be ours: and so palpably should it be ours, that we should be able to join in the asseveration of St. Paul, and say, ‘ “I protest, by my rejoicing in Christ, and as I hope to rejoice in him in a better world, I am dying daily:” “I am crucified to the world,” and to all things in it: and I am, in the constant habit of my mind, like a dying man, expecting and preparing for my speedy dissolution, and anticipating with joy the blessedness that awaits me.’ Beloved brethren, if ye be Christians indeed, this is the experience which you are to aspire after; this is the experience which ye are bound to attain.]
3. That the existence of this, in the Lord’s people, is a strong presumptive proof of a future resurrection—
[A few enthusiasts may be supposed to be carried forward to strange excesses of zeal, even in a bad cause. But to act and suffer as the Apostles did, could not be general amongst pious Christians, if they were not animated by a hope beyond the grave: and their conduct in this world, if it prove not the certainty of a future resurrection, proves, beyond a doubt, the full persuasion of their minds respecting it. In truth, nothing but this expectation could carry persons on to such high attainments: and, on the other hand, there is nothing which those who are persuaded of it will not gladly do and suffer in the prospect of such happiness and glory.
Certify then yourselves, brethren, that there is indeed a future state; and labour, by the conformity of your lives to that of the holy Apostle, to shew that you are borne up, by the hope of it, far above all that the world can give, and above all that the most inveterate enemy can inflict.]
Tell me now, whether the Christian be not,
1. A happy man?—
[As “rejoicing in Christ,” he must of necessity be happy. Nor is he less so in his superiority to all the things of time and sense. In truth, the only way to live happily is to “die daily.” Be it so: he is an object of hatred and persecution amongst men: but he is beloved of God, and enjoys God; and is even led to anticipate more the blessedness of heaven by the very sufferings which he endures on earth. “When God therefore gives him such quietness, who can make trouble?” Verily “none can harm him, seeing that he is thus a follower of that which is good.”]
2. A man worthy to be imitated by all around him?—
[The poor, wretched, ignorant world run from vanity to vanity in pursuit of pleasure; and never find it. The Christian follows after righteousness; and happiness waits on him, even as the shadow of his body. To him every thing is a source of good: adversity itself comes to him as a blessing in disguise; and in his afflictions he tastes nothing but love. Seek then, my brethren, to rejoice in Christ; and then shall all the Christian’s blessedness be yours.]
THE SHAMEFULNESS OF BEING IGNORANT OF GOD
1 Corinthians 15:34. Some hare not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
KNOWLEDGE is the foundation of all acceptable obedience. We must know whom we are to serve; and why we are to serve him; and what are the services that he requires at our hands. Hence the Scriptures represent us first as “renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created us [Note: Colossians 3:10.].” On the other hand, ignorance is the root of all sin. It was to this, as its proper source, that our Saviour and his Apostles traced the wickedness of the Jews in crucifying the Lord of glory, and in persecuting his followers [Note: John 16:3. Acts 3:17. 1 Corinthians 2:8.]. To this also St. Paul referred the conduct of those at Corinth who taught, that “there was no resurrection of the dead.” From their erroneous views of this fundamental doctrine, and the consequent sinfulness of their conduct, he was sure that they were ignorant of God himself; and therefore he declared it to their shame.
The same may be said in reference to ourselves, if we err in any other fundamental point of faith or practice. In order therefore to bring it home to ourselves, we shall shew,
I. What is that knowledge of God, which, as Christians, we are supposed to possess—
God has revealed himself to us in his blessed word; and we ought to know him,
1. In his essential perfections—
[These perfections he proclaimed by an audible voice to Moses, in answer to that prayer of his highly favoured servant, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory [Note: Exodus 33:18.].” The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty [Note: Exodus 34:6-7.].” Yet it is not merely a speculative knowledge of him that we ought to possess, but such a knowledge as produces suitable emotions in our minds. The devils could say to our Saviour, “We know thee who thou art:” and in like manner they are acquainted with all the perfections of Jehovah; but their knowledge is unattended with any sanctifying influence: they know God, but they cannot love him; they see his holiness, and hate it; his justice, and tremble at it; his power, and lament it; his mercy, and despair of it; his grace, and oppose it; his wisdom, and endeavour to counteract it. But this view of him must fill us with wonder, and love, and gratitude, and affiance — — —]
2. As reconciled to us in the Son of his love—
[This more particularly characterizes us as Christians, because in this view he is fully exhibited to us in the Gospel. It is our happy privilege not only to have “the day-star from on high risen upon us,” but to have God himself “shining into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In the cross of Christ we should see all the perfections of God united, and harmonizing, and glorified; or, as the Psalmist expresses it, we should see “mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and peace kissing each other [Note: Psalms 85:10.].” We should realize every perfection of the Deity in this view: we should see his wisdom as providing a plan for the redemption of a ruined world, and as opening a way for the exercise of mercy, without infringing upon the rights of justice, or holiness, or truth. We should see even justice itself become our friend, and beaming upon us with the same benignity as love or mercy, seeing that its utmost demands have been satisfied in the atonement of Christ, and all the glory of heaven has been purchased for us by his obedience unto death — — — In a word, the language of David should be the language of our hearts: “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light [Note: Psalms 36:5-9.].”]
Such is the knowledge of God which every Christian ought to possess. I proceed to shew,
II. Why it is a shame not to possess it—
Of many things we may all be ignorant without any imputation on our character. But to be destitute of the knowledge of God is a shame to all, because it is,
1. The most excellent of all knowledge—
[The knowledge of philosophy is a very valuable acquisition: but it is not to be compared with the knowledge of God, since that infinitely surpasses every thing that can occupy the Human mind. How glorious is it for a worm of the earth to see the perfections of the invisible God! to behold them all shining forth in the face of Jesus Christ! and, above all, to see them all interested in his salvation! How glorious is it for a helpless sinner to know that he has omnipotence for his support, and unbounded mercy for his refuge! How glorious is it for such an unworthy creature to survey the justice and holiness, the power and wisdom, the love and mercy, the truth and faithfulness of God, and then to say, “This God is my God for ever and ever [Note: Psalms 48:14.]!” Surely every thing else in comparison of this is lighter than vanity itself. And whoever seeks any other knowledge in preference to this, has reason to blush for his stupidity, and to be ashamed of his choice.]
2. The most needful of all knowledge—
[The knowledge of trade, and of politics, is necessary for the welfare of a state: but a statesman need not be conversant with the lowest branches of trade; nor need a tradesman know how to govern a state. But the knowledge of God is every man’s business; it is that for which God has brought him into existence, and for which the ordinances of the Gospel are continued to him. Every man is more interested in this, than even in providing bread for his body: for he may have food supplied to him by the benevolence of others; but who can supply the lack of this knowledge, or what substitute can be found for it? Without that a man can have no happiness; because, till he has it, he is exposed to the wrath of Almighty God. Without that he can have no holiness; because holiness is the fruit that springs from it, and therefore cannot subsist without it. Without that he can have no salvation; for “to know God and Christ is eternal life [Note: John 17:3.];” and when Christ shall come to judgment, it will be for the express purpose of “taking vengeance on them that know not God [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8.].” If then it be a shame to be destitute of all good, and to be a miserable outcast from heaven, it is a shame to be ignorant of God.]
3. The most easy to be obtained of all knowledge—
[There are many things which men have not a capacity to learn. But even the weakest of men may attain the knowledge of God, if they will seek it in God’s appointed way. Our Lord returns thanks to his heavenly Father on this very account, “because the things which he has hid from the wise and prudent, are revealed unto babes [Note: Matthew 11:25.].” Nor is this expression merely figurative; for Samuel, Josiah, Timothy, and John, are standing monuments to the Church, that “God will ordain strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings [Note: Psalms 8:2. with Matthew 21:16.].” In reference to this knowledge then, no man has any excuse for his ignorance; no man can say, “I am no scholar, and therefore have no reason to be ashamed;” for all may know the Lord, if they will seek the enlightening influences of his Spirit, since God has pledged himself, that “if any man lack wisdom, and ask it of him, he will give it liberally, and without upbraiding [Note: James 1:5.].”]
[Let those who know not God as reconciled to them in Christ Jesus, begin to seek that knowledge without delay. And let those who do know him, give God the glory: for though an ignorance of him is to our shame, the honour arising from this distinction, belongs to God alone; since it is “he who has given us an understanding to know him [Note: 1 John 5:20.].”]
DEATH A CONQUERED ENEMY
1 Corinthians 15:51-58. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
THE doctrine of the resurrection was altogether unknown to the heathen world, and but imperfectly known even to the Jews themselves. The idea of bodies, once mouldered into dust and scattered over the face of the earth, being ever restored, and reunited to their kindred souls, appeared so visionary, as to be wholly inadmissible and incredible. But St. Paul shews, that the resurrection of our blessed Lord was a fact established beyond the possibility of doubt; and that he had risen “as the first-fruits,” which would assuredly be followed by an universal harvest [Note: ver. 20, 23.]. True it was that a great change would take place in the body, such as was necessary to fit it for its future state of existence: but still it would be the same body in reality, just as the wheat, which, when sown in the ground, first dies, and then rises substantially the same, though in a very different form [Note: ver. 35–38.]. To the question, What shall be done with those who shall be living upon the earth at the last day? He answers, That they shall undergo a change equivalent to death and resurrection: and the manner in which this shall be effected he represents as a mystery, which in former ages had been wholly unknown, but which from inspiration he was now enabled to proclaim. However death had seemed hitherto to triumph over the many successive generations that had existed upon earth, there should at last be an end of his reign, and he himself should be triumphed over by all who belong to Christ.
That we may all have a fuller view of this mystery, we will endeavour to shew,
I. The victory that awaits the Christian—
Christians, like others, appear to be overcome by death—
[They, as well as others, yield to the stroke of death. Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, all have died: two only of all the children of men have been exempted from the common lot: and the time is quickly coming when every one of us must die; (for “the body is dead because of sin [Note: Romans 8:10.];”) and must “return to the dust” from whence we sprang [Note: Genesis 3:19.].]
But in due time they shall assuredly triumph over it—
[It is the body only that death can reach: it cannot affect the believer’s soul: and it is for a time only that it can affect the body. When once the last day shall arrive, there will be an end of that empire which death has so widely extended. The bodies of the saints, of whom alone the Apostle here speaks, shall then be raised up, and with varied degrees of splendour shine forth anew [Note: ver. 41.]. They were sown in corruption, weakness, and dishonour, and they shall be raised in incorruption, power, and glory: from natural bodies, they shall be transformed to spiritual [Note: ver. 42–44.], each one shining forth, as our Saviour himself at his transfiguration, like the sun in the firmament for ever and ever [Note: Compare Matthew 13:43. with 17:2.]. Thenceforth shall “death have no more dominion over them,” any more than it has over our Lord himself [Note: Romans 6:9. with Revelation 21:4.]: on the contrary, it shall itself “be swallowed up in victory,” as the prophet has said [Note: Isaiah 25:8.], and, as the Apostle elsewhere speaks, “Mortality shall be swallowed up of life [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:4.].”
By those also who shall be living at the time of our Lord’s advent, shall the same triumph be enjoyed. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye shall they be changed, as soon as ever the last trump shall sound:” as, in the case of those who have died, “corruptible shall put on incorruption,” so, in those who shall be found alive, “their mortal shall put on immortality [Note: ver. 52, 53.],” and “their vile body shall in an instant be made like unto Christ’s glorious body [Note: Philippians 3:21.],” even to that very body in which he now sits enthroned in glory, the blessed object of adoration to all the hosts of heaven.]
That the Christian may be encouraged the more confidently to look forward to that victory, we proceed to shew,
II. How it is, that he is assured of it—
It is sin that gives death its power—
[If sin had never entered into the world, death would never have existed, or would have been only a translation from earth to heaven. This is plainly told us by St. Paul; “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, even upon those who have not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression [Note: Romans 5:12; Romans 5:14. with ver. 21, 22.].” The law which passed the sentence of death on Adam [Note: Genesis 2:17.], still says to every child of man, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And this law cannot be set aside: it is as immutable as God himself: and hence it is that sin is itself so powerful, and invests death also with such power over our fallen race.]
But the Lord Jesus Christ has taken away our sin—
[He has put himself in our place and stead, and, as our Surety, has satisfied all the demands of the law. Did the law require the death of the offender? He has put himself in the place of sinners, and has borne the penalty for them. Would sin yet prevail to destroy the soul? He has expiated its guilt, and put “away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Must every one have a perfect righteousness before he can appear in the presence of a holy God? Christ has not only “made an end of sin, but by his obedience unto death has brought in an everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24.],” which “he imputes to all them that believe [Note: Romans 3:22.].” Thus is death disarmed of its sting: for sin, which was its sting, is cancelled; and the law, from which sin derived its strength, is fulfilled: and the sentence denounced against us is reversed, so far at least as it is penal; insomuch that “God may now be just, and yet the justifier of sinful men [Note: Romans 3:26.].”]
Thus is death disarmed of its power—
[Death, no longer envenomed by sin, is to be regarded only as a sleep, “a falling asleep in Jesus.” This “enemy,” this “king of terrors,” is turned into a friend, and may now be numbered amongst the richest treasures of the Christian [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.]. If we view it aright, it is only a friend who comes to draw aside the veil that hides the Saviour and all his glory from our eyes. What a blessed thought! O Christian, what joy should this thought impart unto thy soul! with what transport shouldest thou exclaim, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Come forward, Christian; put thy foot upon the neck of this conquered enemy: exult over him, as God himself instructs thee, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Where are now thy boasted triumphs? Instead of swallowing up me, thou shalt be swallowed up; and instead of casting me into the lake of fire, thou thyself shalt have that for thine only and unchangeable abode [Note: Revelation 20:14.].]
Such is the victory that awaits thee. Think then,
III. What exertions the prospect of it should call forth—
Let the expectation of this triumph stimulate thee to prepare for it. Prepare for it by,
1. A steadfast adherence to the faith—
[Much will thy faith be tried: temptations from without and from within will assuredly assault thee: perhaps even the glorious truths contained in our text may be wrested from thee by thy great adversary, so that thou shalt be led to question the reality of them, or thine interest in them. But “be steadfast, and immoveable;” “holding fast the profession of thy faith without wavering.” “Fight the good fight of faith:” “quit thyself like a man:” whoever would “move thee from the hope of the Gospel,” withstand him: whoever would turn thee aside from the right path, or discourage thee in running thy heavenly race, regard him not; but “run on with patience, looking unto Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of thy faith.”]
2. A diligent performance of thy duty—
[The Lord has given thee a work to do: O engage in it with, all thy heart. Has he assigned thee any office whereby thou mayest be useful in advancing his kingdom in the world? “Give thyself wholly to it.” Do the interests of thine own soul call for thine attention? “Forget all that is behind, and press forward for that which is before.” Be not content with small measures of service; but seek to “abound in the work of the Lord;” and this, not on some particular occasions only, but “always,” from day to day, and from year to year, “never being weary in well-doing,” but exerting yourselves the more, in proportion as your time for performing it is cut short. Think what is that work where you may best serve and glorify your Lord; and “make it your meat and drink to do it:” yea, “whatever thine hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.”]
3. An assured expectation of thy reward—
[Moses himself “looked to the recompence of the reward,” as did also the martyrs of old, who “refused to accept deliverance from their tortures, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” If you had no prospect of future happiness, there would be some reason for that Epicurean maxim, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But when you consider how short your present trials are, and how rich will be the recompence for all your labours, it were madness to draw back. Look at those who have already entered into their rest, and ask, Whether they repent of their former labours: or look at the glory that awaits thee, and then think whether the possession of it will not richly compensate all that thou canst do or suffer for thy Lord. “The Lord is not unrighteous, that he will forget your works and labours of love:” No: he has said, that “you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the dead;” and he will with his own hand bestow the recompence: “nor shall even a cup of cold water given for his sake lose its reward.”]
[Happy should we be, if death had this aspect upon all, and we had no occasion to change our voice in relation to it. But to the ungodly it is still an enemy: and over the unbelieving it will retain its dominion to all eternity. Yes, brethren; if we have not sought refuge in Christ from the curses of the broken law, we are yet in our sins, and must perish under the guilt of them for evermore. Is this your case? how terrible then must the thought of death be to you! To you, it will be as the opening of the prison doors to a criminal, that he may be led forth to execution. For a season indeed, your body shall sleep in the dust: but in what image shall it rise in the last day? What will be its feelings, when it shall be re-occupied by the soul, that now claims it as the partner of its former sins, and of all its future sorrows! How glad would it be, if it could take its position under rocks and mountains! Even now, the thought of death is terrible to the unbelieving soul, and the contemplation of eternity distressing. But let it not be always thus; let what you have heard of the Christian’s privileges stir you up to seek a participation of them. Remember, how it is that death must be disarmed of its sting: it is altogether by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as having fulfilled the law for you, and taken away your sins by the blood of his cross. Only look to him as dying for your sins, and rising again for your justification, and all shall yet be well: your souls shall live before him; “because he liveth, you shall live also:” and when he who is your life shall appear, “ye also shall appear with him in glory.”
But to those who profess to believe in Christ, we would also suggest a salutary caution. If the prospect of a glorious resurrection produce not its due effect upon you, you have reason to doubt whether you have indeed an inheritance beyond the grave. It is only in proportion as your faith is operative, that you can have any evidence of its being the “faith of God’s elect.” And how painful will it be, when on the verge of eternity, to have your soul harassed with doubts and fears about your eternal state! Do not, I beseech you, walk so carelessly as to endanger your final acceptance with God, or to make it doubtful to your own mind. What can be the effect of sin, but to fill your dying pillow with thorns? Never then trifle either with sin or duty: let the one be put away from you with all care, and the other be practised with all diligence: and seek of God the aid of his good Spirit, that you may so live as to enjoy the testimony of your own conscience, and so walk, “that you may be found of him in peace without spot and blameless.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany