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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Corinthians 15

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-58

The Resurrection of Christ

1 Corinthians 15

There is no need of any other creed than that which is to be found within the four corners of this chapter. It would be easy to show that all Christian history, all Christian thought, all Christian doctrine, may be found in these fifty-eight verses. We have the Old Testament; we have the revelation of Christ, and the work of Christ in every aspect; we have the counteraction of the old Adamic failure: we have the rule and kingship of the Son of God; we have the promised resurrection of the dead; and concluding all the radiant and triumphant argument we have the sublime application—work! We never can do enough of it. Do not lose yourselves in your theological rhapsodies, but show that they are not rhapsodies at all, but rational raptures, by being "stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord": let your service prove your doctrine. Paul is very personal, nearly always. Some men rightly object to personality, simply because they have no personality of their own. It would be absurd, beyond the point of allowable comedy, for some persons to speak in the first personal pronoun. They are the persons who always object to the use of that pronoun by other people. Were they to base any argument or suggestion on their own personality, it would be like attempting to build a large edifice upon the point of a pin. But Paul had a personality, and he used it, and was neither afraid nor ashamed to use it; he had a great big life, a grand identity: what understanding, what majesty of reason, what depth and reality of emotion! What hero-stuff was he made of! He could not help projecting his personality into his works because his personality was a sanctified reality,—"By the grace of God, I am what I am." Let the mountain be ashamed of its stature, let the sun be ashamed of its glory, but let no Christian man be ashamed to utter all that Christ has done for him, and to trace all his magnitude to the power and goodness of the Son of God! Hear Paul"s personality:—"I declare"; "I preached"; "I delivered"; "I received"; thus he brings us into close quarters with his character. Theologians now write what they have heard and what they have read, and therefore all their testimony is open to suspicion, and is generally pointless: but there have been men in the Church who spoke in their own person, men who stood up and made oath and said, each in his own name,—I received, I saw, I heard. When the testimony is of that kind, before we can destroy the testimony we must destroy the character of the witness. That is the easy plan of inexperienced pleaders. The first idea that occurs to the opening mind that means one day to be judicial is to assail the good faith of the witness. Paul stands before the Church, and declares in his own name what he had seen, heard, received, and done by express authority. Let us hear him in detail.

"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Corinthians 15:3). What Scriptures? There was no New Testament then; consequently we are driven back upon the Old Testament as covering the ground indicated by the word "Scriptures." Men are sometimes prone now to close the Old Testament; they say, We have passed all the ground limited and signified by Old Testament writing. We are bound in reply to consider what use Christ made of the Old Testament, and what use the Apostles made of the ancient Scriptures. Paul does not hesitate to find evangelical doctrine in prophetic writing. Listen to the words again, for they are expressive, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." It is important to know how Paul read the Scriptures. Paul was not a man we could do very well without in any great Christian service or argument; it never can be a matter of unimportance what such a man as he thought, so penetrating, so just, so ardent, so masterful in all his survey and grasp and reasoning. Paul so read the Old Testament as to find Jesus Christ in it everywhere. Nor did he invent this method of making the Old Testament Messianic, for before Paul arose Jesus himself began at Moses, and in all the Scriptures expounded unto the tear-blinded disciples the things concerning himself; and so exact was his exposition, so definite his citation, and so loving his appeal, that the hearts of the despairing men began to feel the old glow, and their hearts burned within them under the new reading of the old writing. The Old Testament is saturated with Christ. There is a danger of pushing allusions too far, but there is another danger of not rightly using the allusions which ought to be patent to a true faith and an ardent love. Better find more Christ than less Christ in the Old Testament. "And that he was buried" ( 1 Corinthians 15:4). The Apostle was not afraid of what we call tautology; he did not say, Inasmuch as he died he must have been buried. He will set it down as a separate fact having its own load of meaning that Christ was buried. He was not a half-dead Christ, a swooning, fainting Christ, seen in a very happy simulation of death: he was buried. "And that he rose again the third day"—How?—"According to the Scriptures." Is the Resurrection then in the Old Testament? Paul would seem to have found it there: Then how many have failed to read the Old Testament aright, because it has been a favourite argument with many that the resurrection of the dead is not hinted at in the Old Testament, or only so dimly indicated as really not to amount to a line of evidence. There may be greater men than Paul: some of us have not met them. It is important that under Paul"s own sign-manual we have the declaration that when he read the Scriptures he saw Christ dying in them for our sins, and when he read them again he saw Christ rising out of the grave, a Victor-Saviour loaded with the spoils of the enemy. "And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve." Paul is not literal; he could not find room in the letter to live it, so he says, "The twelve," indicating the number that was the first disciple body. We speak of the ten, whereas there may be only seven, because ten is the real number, the significant symbol, the true arithmetic. One had gone, but "the twelve" became the more pathetic because of that tragical vacancy. "After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present," who can be consulted, examined, tested. "After that, he was seen of James; then of all the Apostles." This evidence in any secular case would be pronounced overwhelming. Were this evidence cited in support of the authorship of any classic work, men might be stopped in the citation long before they concluded it, because the assenting auditors would say, It is enough: the point is more than proved. But, to some minds, the greatest, clearest evidence has yet to come, namely in the eighth verse—"And last of all he was seen of me also." Sometimes the very least part of the building is at the tip-top of it The huge edifice needed just that little fingertip to complete it; the littleness is more than balanced by the elevation. "Last of all"—that is to say, last of all Paul"s line of argument, or series of examinations and credentials—"he was seen of me also." But is there not a sense in which every Christian sees his risen Lord? There may be need to adjure us not to press this point too literally, and we respond, To apply it literally would be to lose its meaning: yet we do claim that there is a sense in which every preacher, every believer, every true reader of the Scriptures must have seen Christ for himself as with his own eyes; so that when all the great historical witnesses have passed in proud procession, a voice may be lifted up, saying, I wish to add my testimony, for I too have seen the Lord. There is no doubt, then, about the historical basis on which Paul built his system of truth. There is not a reference here to fancy; the Apostle owes nothing to transcendentalism or idealism or magical power of supposed things: he lays a foundation of granite, he stands upon it, and challenges the world to dispute its solidity. So there was one man who believed all the story—the dying, the burying, the rising again, the revelation to one, and twelve, and five hundred, and another, the whole Apostolate, and last of all to the greatest, Paul. It is important to notice that Paul describes Jesus Christ"s death in terms which elevate it above the suspicion of being a mere martyrdom. We do not read that Christ was taken by wicked hands and slain, which would have been narrowly and temporarily true: we read that Christ "died." There is a quietness about this word "died" which we do not find in the word crucified, slain, murdered. We might have seen him die in a chamber, quieted by the presence of the last visitant; this might have occurred in solitude. There is a solemn pathos in this word "died"; it indicates voluntariness, consent, something done of set purpose, an accomplished idea, a self-surrender, a lying down that something might be done in that posture which would end in victory and redemption.

The Apostle Paul is not content with dwelling upon the resurrection of Christ: he will have all men raised in Christ. It was the peculiar genius of the Apostle to amplify. When you showed him an acorn you showed him a Bashan: Give Paul one little bulb, and instantly you touched the fountains of his eloquence, and he described gardens and paradises and heavens of beauty; he saw the whole in the part, he saw the paradise in the seed. So Paul will have it that Christ"s resurrection carries every other resurrection: If Christ rose from the dead, there can be no graveyard beyond a given point. "Now," he begins in the twelfth verse, and then takes his course through an argument close as mailed armour. One of his points is very pathetic. He turns from abstract reasoning to a personal application of a very tender kind. "Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." He feels that he has been stung by an insult; somebody has not believed him; he says in effect. Besides all this, you make us liars, because our Christianity is based, not only upon historical evidence, but upon personal sympathy and experience, and if you insist upon it that the dead rise not, you make us liars, false witnesses of God. How like a true man he spoke! To be accounted a false witness burned him like fire. In very deed Paul did much to show that he could not have been a false witness. No man would have suffered for a lie as he suffered when he knew that it was a lie, and could by one opening of his mouth have saved himself from a thousand difficulties. Having become possessed of the idea that Christ rose from the dead, Paul never left the ground. Though he was told that bonds and imprisonment awaited him in the next city, he said, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy." And when all was over he laid down his venerable head, and said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." See how a liar dies; see how a false witness passes into eternity! Is it possible after reading the life of Paul that we can disbelieve the sincerity of the man? Yet this very man says: I saw Christ; I talked with Christ; I received a direct commission from Christ; I have not told you one word of my own mind or my own fancy; all you have heard from me I have heard from him; I but repeat the thunder, I but echo the music. Let us suppose that he was a mistaken man; he did enough under the inspiration of his mistake to make us wish that we also were mistaken. What heroisms came out of the hallucination! what defence of the right, what noble courage, what moral chivalry! Better be mistaken in that direction than to be so convinced in another direction as to live unto oneself, and have no care who lives or dies, provided we have our own food and raiment. With Paul it was not enough that Christ lived and died and was buried; in all that, Paul would have found no Gospel; if the story had ended there, it would have had no interest for a mind like Paul"s; he would justly have said, All this may have justly taken place, but it all ended in a melancholy failure. Paul would not have Christianity until it was crowned with the resurrection of its founder. Paul had nothing to do with the martyrs except as they had to do with Christ. Martyrdom was not redemption, murder was not propitiation; he must see the priest in the victim, the victim in the priest, the priest and the victim in the risen king. He thought he saw it all; he lived under the inspiration of that vision; and let any other man put his life against the heroic course of Paul, and take what credit he can from the contrast. We speak much of the death of Christ, and in so doing our pathos is well bestowed, but we do not perhaps speak enough of the resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ used his own resurrection in this way—namely, that he told his disciples to take it back over all the things they had seen and heard, and it would cast a light upon all the series of instruction and events. "Tell it not until the Son of Man be risen from the dead." We are now entitled to take the whole life of Christ over the whole ground of the Old Testament Scriptures, and to see every grand mystery lighted up with this great glory; and in coming to the New Testament we can make nothing of it, in all its profounder meanings and holier applications, until we take back upon Bethlehem the resurrection of the Child that was born there. Doubling back upon history, with all the assistance of the resurrection, every miracle has a new meaning, every word a larger significance, every outlook a wider horizon. It is the peculiarity of the Scriptures that you cannot understand the part until you understand the whole. First read the Scriptures from the beginning to the end, then take the end back upon the beginning. There are those who say, Let us read the Bible just as we come to it, a verse at a time. That is a literal way of reading it; it is not an inadmissible way of perusing the sacred page: but Christ himself has told us there is a more excellent way. Why should we object to adopt Christ"s method? namely, to take the end back to the beginning, and read from the beginning, knowing as we do the mystery and glory of the end? He who reads the Scriptures so will never cease to read them: men do not willingly run away from Paradise; men are not impatient to leave the face or the voice that fascinates and gratifies their attention; the hungry child does not willingly leave the food which he appreciates and which is supplied in abundance; so he who knows Christ will carry back into Genesis meanings which a mere scholarly reader can never find there. The Bible is not a piece of literature only, it is a revelation. There is a way of treating literature, and there is a way of treating the revealed will of God. Literature must submit to be torn to pieces by the grammar, by the lexicon; it must subject itself to the torture of literary analysis: but a revelation descends and ascends, changes its motion, alters its colour, varies its aspect, and is not to be treated with the iron instruments with which we torture common letters.

If Christ died and rose again, Paul says, they who sleep in Christ shall also be raised by his power. Paul will have every little child brought back; and Christ has a larger heart than Paul. Paul might suppose there were more little children to come, but Christ knows them by name. This is the Christian vision, this is the Christian inspiration. Paul will see in Christ the work, the failure of the first Adam counteracted. The Lord is not going to leave a desert where he meant to have a garden: with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." What heart is there that would not dwell upon that word "all" in lingering emphasis, as if it really did mean that, somehow not known to us, even the worst should be brought in? Is there not a hint of this in the experience of the man who says,—I am the least of the Apostles; I am not meet to be called an Apostle; for I persecuted the Church or God; and if I could be brought in, my own experience is my best conviction that the worst man need not despair. Paul did not so magnify his Apostleship as to exclude other people; he so viewed it and estimated it as to include everybody, saying, If I, then all. These are wonderful words, and not to be easily dismissed—"as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." I do not see that we are entitled to alter the grammar in the latter part of the sentence; we must apply the same rule of interpretation to the whole text. Did all die in Adam? Let us reply, Yes. Then are all to be made alive in Christ? Be fearless: and then our answer will be, Having admitted the one, we cannot deny the other. How is it to be brought about? That we cannot tell, further than that we are always entitled to say, By the grace and wisdom and power of Christ. "But every man in his own order:" literally, Every man in his own troop; as if the whole were one great army, an infinite series of massed and regulated regiments, each to be called for by the commander in his own time in his own way,—forward! Then comes his indication of the aged, the young, the martyrs, the ancients, the great ones,—forward! Every man in his own troop. Hear the tramp! oh, what a music resounds from that tramp of feet advancing to the final rest! Then Christ is to complete in kingship what he began in subjection. He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. It is important to know who is to be king. Read the great psalm in which the king is predicted who is to reign from the river unto the ends of the earth. Who is he? What is his character? He is to have dominion from sea to sea. Will he be very grand? Will he be too dazzling in glory for our poor eyes to look upon? "He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.... He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth... shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper." God save the King! This is the man we want to reign over us. No matter how ineffable his majesty and glory, no matter how far off the universe may behold the dazzling gleaming of his diadem; we have it that he shall save the poor and needy. If we cannot look upon his loftiness, we may touch him at his point of condescension.

Paul Speaks of Death

1 Corinthians 15

We wonder how the Apostle will speak of death. It is noticeable that he speaks of everything with the dignity and calmness of a strong man. Surely, you say, he will sometimes quail, surely sometimes even his gigantic strength will quiver. Yet we never detect any sign of weakness in the way in which Paul deports himself in the presence of great questions and great agonies. He was himself great: not only was his office great and conspicuous, and his function wholly notable and supreme, the quality of the man was itself of the finest sort. He seemed to handle everything as if it were below him, rather than above him, and requiring strain and effort and strenuous attention.

How will Paul speak of death? He will speak of death in the power of Christ. He says, Christ is risen, therefore death is destroyed. He risks everything upon Christ. In the Apostle"s preaching Christ does not constitute an incidental element, something that may be brought in or may not, according to the current of his own thought or the suggestion of circumstances: Paul never begins his work without intending to begin with Christ, continue with Christ, and end with Christ. If there is no Cross, there is no preaching, there is no faith, there is no Gospel, there is no resurrection, there is no heaven. In Paul"s estimation—it may not be so greatly prized as that of many men of the present day—but in his own way of looking at things, Christ was everything, the explanation of everything, and the mystery of everything; the glory of all hope, the immortality of all true life.

Having assured himself that Christ is not dead, he said, All the rest will come. The resurrection of Christ carries everything with it. But did Christ rise again from the dead? Paul says he did. Nor is his witness anonymous. He says that the risen Christ was seen of Cephas, then he was seen of the twelve, after that he was seen of about five hundred brethren at once, after that he was seen of James , and then he was seen of all the Apostles. Of course they might all be mistaken; but here are their names, here is their testimony. They say they saw him, spoke to him, touched him, heard him. The evidence is very striking, and quite cumulative; there is nothing mysterious or anonymous about it; no new witnesses are created for the occasion, but the old followers, the old students, the old comrades and friends. That ought to go for something; that, indeed, ought to go for much; yea, for so much as to decide the question of Christ"s identity as the risen One. But this was not enough for Paul. "Last of all he was seen of me also": I have seen the Man; if you deny my witness, you deny my character; if you say I have been mistaken, then you challenge my understanding, my natural sagacity, my senses, my whole manhood in fact: I say, solemnly, distinctly, not as a poet, not as an idealist, not as a mystic; but I say as a reasoner, I saw him. That ought to go for much. Denial amounts to nothing. What is easier than for men to stand up and say that they do not believe Paul? We must inquire who they are, what right they have to speak in such a court; we must ask on what Bible they swear. There may be persons who will arise on some future occasion and deny their testimony. Denial therefore amounts to nothing; it is not argument, at best it is but a subterfuge. With all those witnesses before us we are acting a rational part in believing that the Man who was crucified did rise again. Grant that, said Paul, and you grant the whole action of what is known as the resurrection. Because Christ rose, all who sleep in Christ shall rise with him.

"Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" Even in that early time men wondered and doubted; but men always wonder, and always doubt. The question Isaiah , By whom shall we stand? Here is distinction of parties, here is a division of testimony: "Cephas," "the twelve," "five hundred brethren at once," " James ," "all the apostles," "and last of all he was seen of me also." That is the one side: call up the next class of witnesses:—"some among you"—are their names given? Is any weight attached to their testimony? Not a whit. We can take which side we please. On the one side we shall have living men, men whose identity could be established, whose history could be traced, whose character could be estimated; and on the other side we shall have "some among you," some Corinthians,—and who the Corinthians were when gathered into a Church we can easily find out by reading this very epistle. If ever there was an unruly, unmanageable, riotous set of men in the world, they could be found in the Church at Corinth. Now take sides.

The Apostle further says that, if Christ be not risen, then the Apostles themselves are found false witnesses of God. Read the words:—"Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." That stung Paul. He was proud of his honour. He had done enough to establish his title to be recognised as a lover and defender of truth. He had seen the last article of property taken away from him; he had seen himself stripped naked; he had been left in cold and hunger, in nakedness and thirst: and yet he was a false witness, and knew it! Then surely there was no greater mistake ever made by man. But Paul seems in this verse to point out the absurdity of considering him and his colleagues false witnesses of God:—What have we to gain by it? what are we profited by declaring the resurrection of Christ, if Christ did not rise from the dead? What fruit is there in such a lie? What harvest can grow on such barrenness of thought? On the other hand, he never surrendered a fact. Having proved certain things to exist and to operate, there he stood: he saw them, he felt them, he knew them. Paul"s Christianity was not a literary argument, it was a personal experience.

How will Paul speak of death? Having laid down his main lines, he simply recognises the fact of death. To what a pass we have come! We have lived so long and seen so much that if any man were to tell us that "Man is mortal," we should charge him with triteness and with commonplace. Were any teacher now—grey, sober, calm, benignant, solicitous—to say to a congregation, "We must all die," he would be smiled at,—"As if people did not know that," would be the curt but pointless remark. Yes, it is possible to know it, and not to know it. No man knows, in the profoundest sense of the term "knows," that he is mortal till within a few moments of the end. He knows it in letters, in simple statement, in commonplace remark, but he does not know it, see it, feel it, respond to it, with the dignity of a man who has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We have often had occasion to see how the devil robs us of many riches, under the suggestion that our teachers are talking commonplace to us. Paul recognises the fact that men are dying every day, that all men must die, that death in certain aspects has the port and the fame of a conqueror. There is something worse than commonplace, and that is intelligent ignorance—the ignorance that assumes the knowledge of death, the ignorance that treats death as always afar off. Do not be ashamed of the commonplaces "bread and water." Verily they are most commonplace, but they are the staple of life. You can do without the fine art of bakery, but not without your mother"s skill in loaf-making; you can do without the vineyard, but not without the well where the water is. So there is an originality with which you could well dispense, but you cannot safely dispense with the jejune, trite commonplace that even you must die. "All men think all men mortal but themselves."

Paul treats death as part of a great scheme. That is the Pauline genius. If you take death out by itself and set it before you, it is most horrifying and alarming; but nothing is to be taken out and set by itself. God"s universe is a household, all the things in it belong to one another. Try to rearrange a well-proportioned building, and every touch of your hand is a desecration of its beauty. There are those who take up insulated providences and regard each in its singularity and say, Is this the goodness of God? Is this the benignity of heaven? Is this the witchery of love? Their argument is foolish because they have dislocated facts, they have wrecked the genius and the music of proportion, they have omitted the element of atmosphere, therefore everything is disjointed, falsely related, and the whole makes a grim spectre on the outlook of man as he endeavours to forecast and estimate the future.

On the other hand, Paul made death one of a series of facts. He has birth and life and old age and death and burial and resurrection and heaven and immortality, and on and on he goes; and, looking back from his far advance, he says, "O death"—of which we were once so much afraid—"O death, where is thy sting?" It is possible to put yourselves into a false relation to death; that is to say, it is possible so to magnify death as really to hide in profane concealment the fact of life. Some men are subject to bondage all their lifetime through fear of death; they do not set it in proper series; it is something that overshadows everything else, it is invested with a false magnitude and therefore with a false importance; it is not made part of an infinite whole, in the roll and music of which it seemed to contribute its hoarse amen.

Paul looks upon dying as part of a system of progress. Dying day is not finishing day with Paul; he says, We shall meet this life again: here is an instance of the soul throwing off the body, leaving the body to its native earth, but itself going aloft and afar into the light. Paul"s reasoning would seem in modern expression to be something like this:—We die into life; we die into largeness; we die into liberty,—"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." Paul puts the body always into its right place; he says, You are of the earth, remember that; you are a common body; you, as a body, are confined to one little sphere; there is but a handful of you at the best, and in your case the tragedy will be finished off in the climax, Earth to earth, ashes to ashes; that is your little empty story; you did well, or you did badly for the time being, but beyond this sunset you had no sphere of action: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither can corruption inherit incorruption. How does death look now? It is necessary, it is part of something else, part of a magnificent whole.

Then Paul says, The whole action is in the hands of God:— "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." Why, there we are quite put into passivity. That is even so. Read the grammar again—"the dead shall be raised incorruptible"; not, The dead shall raise themselves;—"and we shall be changed"; not, We shall change ourselves by some automatic action; "we shall be," "we shall be,"—the grammar itself is theological. Everything is under God"s sovereignty. Let a man once lay hold on this thought, and there is no death, the bitterness of death is passed; there is no grave that hath in it the dignity of victory. The man who died daily could not be frightened by death as we understand that term:—"I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily": I meet death every day, and talk to him, and submit to him, and tell him just what he can do and what he cannot dp: death does not like to wait on me; he comes in with some pride of heart, and some dominance of voice, but when he goes out of the door of my sanctuary he is himself dead.

How do we propose to treat death? We can, if we please, so live as to die almost like dogs. What do we say to that possibility? We can so stamp out all noble aspiration, all fine sentiment, all desire after spirituality, we can so gluttonise ourselves, and so soak ourselves in the casks of the wine-bibber and the glutton, as to have hardly any soul at all. The possibility is before any man who is envious of such reputation. A man may so die that society will look upon him, and say, What kind of a sepulchre shall he have? and society will hardly look a moment until it says, Swathe him in quicklime, and forget him! Society cannot do with too much pestilence. On the other hand, we can so live as to slip into God"s heaven; we can so live that men shall say, "He was not, for God took him"; we can so live as to be so near heaven that going into it will hardly be a surprise to the trained soul; it has been so much with God, so much with Christ, it has yielded itself so entirely to the moulding and inspiring influence of the Holy Ghost, that the veil has been worn down into a film, and heaven has been a realised experience. There are men who call us in the one direction, and there are men who call us in the other; and the men who call us in the latter direction are the men who save society. We may sneer at them as fanatics, and contemn them, and curl the lip of scorn under their preachments, but there be no bigger cowards than the contemners, when the tooth of death fastens upon them.

But will Paul say, Seeing what we have to do, brethren, let us make the best of it, and be quiet and careless as to the concerns of life and time; let us drop all thought of politics and commerce and statesmanship and learning and civilisation, and let us pine "for a lodge in some vast wilderness, some boundless contiguity of shade," where we can sigh ourselves away? Not he: that would not be Pauline. Having looked at death as a fact, and looked at death in relation to Christ, and looked at death as part of a greater thought, and as but a passage into largeness and liberty, Paul says, "Therefore—." Now the preacher is himself again: "Therefore"—more work, more steadfastness; let us be up and doing. They cannot be far wrong who follow the leadership of such a man. His tone is health; what he touches he elevates; the moment he intervenes in debate or counsel or prayer, the whole vision of life changes. It would be a reproach some of us could well bear to be called "followers of Paul"; but Paul himself, seeing us following him, says, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." We have a middle-man in science, why not a middle-man in theology? We have the great savant who reads the deeper, intenser learning of the universe, but who has no gift of simple speech; we have the giants who knock at the upper doors and find admission and hold converse with the presences that are there, but have no gifts of communicating with the lower strata, the lower ranges of life: so we have in civilisation interpreters who are not ashamed to be called middle-men, they can hear the mightier spirits, and turn their noble eloquence into common terms, so that boys at school can catch some glimmering of uppermost and farthest-reaching meanings, so that there shall be threadlets of connection between the giants and the infants. Why not have our middle-men in the highest theological relations? There are those who can see far, and hear much, and who can hear things which it is not lawful to utter, and they again must be interpreted; at all events there must be some indication of their meaning given, which men of lower stature and inferior quality of mind can in some degree apprehend. Sometimes we can understand Paul and not Jesus; sometimes we can understand James and not John: hut as we grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find that they are all talking about the same thing; and that there is only variety of speech, because there is variety of receptive capacity.

I had an interview with Death.

The place, a lonely dell, winter-bound, swathed in spotless snow. The time, new-risen morn; the last star, paling As if in fear, retired but not extinguished. A spirit strengthened me to brave the enemy of life, And gave me courage to upbraid his cruelty. My speech I do remember well, and Death"s reply.

Said I, in heightened tone, as if to keep uncertain Courage steadfast and ardent: "Monster, of thee No man speaks well: thy silent tread makes The house tremble, and in thy cold breath all Flowers die. No little child is safe from Thy all-withering touch: nor mothers Dost thou spare, nor lovers weaving life"s story Into coloured dream, nor saints in lowly prayer. Why not content thyself with warring and succeeding In the gloomy jungle?—smite the tiger crouching For his prey, or the lion in his fierceness, Or fly after the panting wolf, or lodge An arrow in the heart of the proud eagle. Why devastate our homes? Why kill our little ones? Why break our hearts and mock our thirst With the brine of useless tears? O Death! I would That thou wert dead."

Then Death answered me, and filled me with amaze. "Believe me," said the weird defendant, "thy reasoning Is false, and thy reproach an unintelligent assault."

His voice was gentle, and through all his pallor There gleamed the outline of a smile. I saw Transfigured Death!

"I am God"s servant. The flock must be brought home. I go to bring the wanderers to the fold. The lambs are God"s, not yours; or yours but to Watch and tend until He sends for them. Through your own fatherhood read God"s heart. Through your own watching for the child"s return Conceive the thought that glows in love divine."

He paused. Said I: "Could not some brighter Messenger be sent? An angel with sunlight in His eyes and music in his voice? Thou dost Affright us Song of Solomon , and make us die so oft in Dying once. If our mother could but come: or some Kindred soul: or old pastor whose voice We know: any but thou, so cold, so grim!"

"I understand thee well," said Death, "but thou dost not Understand thyself. Why does God send this cold snow Before the spring? Why icebergs first, then daffodils? My grimness, too, thou dost not comprehend. The living have never seen me. Only the dying Can see death. I am but a mask. The angel thou Dost pine for is behind: sometimes angel-mother, Sometimes father, sometimes a vanished love, But always to the Good and True the very image of the Christ. No more revile me. I am a vizored friend."

The dell was then transformed. The snow gleamed Like silver. The day a cloudless blue. And Suddenly living images filled the translucent space. And then I asked of Death if he could tell whence Came they. And he said: "These are mine. A reaper I, as well as shepherd. I put in the sharp sickle: I bound the sheaves: I garnered the precious harvest: And when I come angels sing, "Harvest home.""

J. P.

It was thus Paul saw death; it is thus the Christian views it. The Christian says of mortality, A commonplace. But he is foolish who ignores the fact that he must die. "I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord... for they shall rest." "Therefore are they before the throne.... The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Call no man blessed until he is dead—he shall fall no more.

Prayer

Almighty God, do thou teach us that thou hast thyself appointed the bounds of our habitation. Show us that there is nothing that thou dost not know, and if we be obedient unto thee there is nothing that thou wilt not appoint for us. Thou sayest, This is your house: and, This is not your habitation;—This is the way, walk ye in it: and, This is not the way, avoid it. May we hear thy voice, and obey it with all diligence and love. Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our Father: the very hairs of our head are all numbered: he will not suffer any of our steps to slide. Oh, that we had hearkened unto his law and kept all his statutes! then had we never wandered, but our road had led straight into heaven"s own city. We have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things we ought to have done; we can but bow our heads and rend our hearts, and cry, God be merciful unto us sinners! Thou hast made all things contribute to our growth, if we so use them; even the devil himself may be made an instrument of God: if we resist the devil he will flee from us; if we answer him in thine own words he cannot return to us with any deadly effect. Thou dost train us by perils, difficulties, trials of every name and every degree: may we not repine, and resent, and moan over these, but accept them as part of our education, as signs of thy providential reign; and may we answer all the appeals of heaven with glowing love, so that thy statutes shall become our songs in the house of our pilgrimage. Thou hast shown some men great and sore affliction: say to them in their heart-break and darkness and blinding sorrow, Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth: and thus may scourging be made a means of grace, may loss be made the beginning of gain. All these things thou wilt teach us in the school of Christ, the blessed Christ, the dying, rising, interceding Christ, who made all things, without whom nothing was made that is made, Lord of all, because Saviour of all. May we find our rest in Christ"s Cross; may we find the answer to sin in the atonement of the Son of God. Without inventions of our own may we accept the sanctuary of thy purpose and sovereignty and love, and be at rest in the heart of Christ. Stop us in all evil ways; may a lion meet us at every turn and affright us until we come back again to the line of duty and righteousness. When the enemy is strong upon us, may thy grace abound over all his pleading. When we are tempted to despair and to say that heaven is empty and God has gone, then shine upon us with a light above the brightness of the sun. Amen.


Verse 35

The Basis of Unity

1 Corinthians 15:35

The Apostle is discoursing upon the resurrection. He is not supposing that a man is objecting to the doctrine or the fact of resurrection, he is simply asking a question as to method or manner:—"Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" It is vital to remember that the man is not disputing the doctrine or the fact of resurrection, he is not exciting himself in any controversial sense about that; he is puzzled as to method, way, scheme, process. I want, therefore, by adaptation of the text to show how possible it is to be right in certain great central convictions, and to be altogether in a muddle as to accidentals, exteriors, and mutable circumstances: in short, I want to find that there may be more union in the world than we suppose; that our differences are differences of opinion, and not differences of faith. "Some man will say, How?" He is not therefore to be regarded as a man who denies the fact of the resurrection. His imagination may have led him to think there may be twenty different ways by which the fact of resurrection may be realised; he is simply, therefore, on the outside, asking an outside question. If he came up and said, There is no resurrection; the Apostle is mistaken at the very centre and head of this question; there is no such thing as the anastasis on which he is elaborating his eloquence,—the case would be altogether different. But the Prayer of Manasseh , instead of denying the fact or resurrection, says, How is it to be brought about, in what particular way does this resurrection take place: is it in this way, or in that? There he is simply speculating, forming opinions and offering opinions; he is not therefore a disbeliever. He who accepts resurrection is a believer. He may agree with nobody on the face of the earth as to how that resurrection is to be consummated. Have not I a right to my opinion as much as any other man? Certainly; but your opinion amounts to nothing. Opinion works within a very limited range: if you confine it within that range, and utter it modestly, every man will be glad to hear it: light comes out of friction, discussion properly conducted is educative: but as to your having a right to your opinion, there may not be so much in the claim as one would infer from the emphasis and inclusiveness of your tone. Your opinion will change. Opinion was made to change. Opinion is but a weather sign; it was warm yesterday, it is frosty to-day, it will be thawing tomorrow: that is the way of opinion. But the thing to be remembered is this, there are certain things that are not open to opinion. Opinion has nothing to do with them; they live in a sanctuary that was never violated by so frivolous a trespasser as opinion. That is often forgotten, and therefore we live in continual excitement and tumult and controversy, and we have sectarianism and bigotry and internecine war on all sides of the Church; one little bigot trying to slay another, and to make out that he is the man who carries in his little head infinity, and houses in his suspicious heart eternity. Keep opinion in its proper place. Some man will say, How? and he has a right to say it: but if any man shall contradict certain things he is a lunatic, he is not to be tolerated at large: simply because those things do not come in for judgment at all, they come in for acceptance, and this we can prove.

Health is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact. It a man should arise, and say, "In my opinion, health is of little or no consequence, and no attention ought to be paid to its cultivation," you would not listen to him. He must start with this admission, that health is of supreme importance: now, let him deal out his nostrums as he will, let him say it ought to be cultivated in this way, rather than in that; in order to cultivate health a man ought to eat much meat, or to eat none at all; he ought to drink water, or he ought to take some little stimulant with his food; he ought to rise at such an hour, and retire at such a corresponding hour. There opinion plays and speculates and pronounces itself with more or less accurate emphasis. But opinion is not called upon to offer judgment upon the absolute necessity of health. If the Church would believe that, there would be a reconstruction of ecclesiastical Europe; men would shake hands, who before could not do Song of Solomon , because each hand had a sword in it.

Law is not a matter of opinion. A law, this law, that law, may be matters of opinion; but the thing we are agreed upon is that law is essential. You see, therefore, how there may be a central truth on which all men are agreed, and how there may be an infinite debatable land on which men may exercise their powers of controversy until the day of doom. The mischief is that men attach far too much importance to the things that are mere matters of opinion. They should now and then say to one another, Brethren, although men have many minds, and there are a million different opinions among us as to particular laws, let us stand together on this rock, that without law, society is insecure, progress is impossible. If the Church would apply that doctrine to all the affairs with which it concerns itself, we should have many men allied in kindliest fellowship, who are now living a life of religious, and therefore bitter, estrangement.

The sacredness of life is not a matter of opinion. No man would arise and say, Let us discuss whether life is sacred. Discussion is inadmissible: opinion has no standing ground here; it must take its chatter otherwhere. Give up the sacredness of life, and you give up society, progress, education, civilisation; you give up everything that gives value, dignity, and divinity to being. Once admit that it is of no consequence how you treat a little child, you may set your foot upon it and crush it if you like,—once admit principles of that kind, and your commonwealth is wrecked. All society must be the father of every child within it, and the poorer the child, the fatherlier should be the social instinct and the social homage and care. Here again as to varieties of methods of training life, some man will say, How is the child to be schooled? at what age is schooling to begin? at what age is schooling to end? what is to be the educational process through which the child shall pass? There you have matters of opinion, and reference must be made to the court of experience, to the arbitrator called history. But distinguish between the indisputable, called the sacredness of life, and the mutable and the opinionable, called method, process, and way of doing things. For want of knowing this the Church is a beargarden. It would be amazing, if we were not familiar with it, into what fumes little men can throw themselves about matters of opinion, and how the less the man the bolder he will say, Have I not as much right to my opinion as any other man? Certainly: but neither your opinion nor any other man"s opinion amounts to anything in this discussion. We are pledged to the sacredness of life; now, after that, let us exchange views, let us discuss the matter, dispassionately, wisely, and hopefully. Discussion shows that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in any man"s philosophy; the conflict of opinion shows that the question is larger than was at first supposed. When a man lives by himself and keeps his opinions as so many curiosities, pins them down and unpins them, and takes them up and puts them back again, and closes the case and locks them up, he is apt to think that he has seen all that God has to show: if he would come out into society, if he would debate with other men, if he would measure swords with stronger hands, if he would get into the whirl and harmony and action of things, he would find that no one man is all men, and that no one opinion is all wisdom.

Take the question of honesty. Honesty is not a matter of opinion. If we can say, Is it worth while being honest? society is gone. Society must have its rocky foundations. What would you say to a man who raised the question to you, whether honesty, after all, is a thing worth caring about? Would you appoint that man as a clerk in your office? I do not ask whether you would appoint him as a clerk in somebody else"s office; I am at this moment talking about your office. The man says, Well, on the whole, as to honesty, what does it amount to? There are some things—let us repeat again and again till we get the thought well driven into our heads—that are not subject to opinion, they do not belong to the region of opinion: they are central essences, eternal verities, and when we exercise what is called judgment or form what is called opinion, we must have reference to that which is changeable, and not to that which is immutable.

For want of knowing this, Christians fall upon one another"s throats, and never was so much blood shed in all the world as over the neglect of such discrimination as we are now endeavouring to point out. A man is not an infidel because he has difficulties about questions, methods, and ways; a man is not an infidel who has renounced ecclesiastical forms and ecclesiastical orthodoxies: a man may have cut away all the outside and environment of his life, and still he may be a son of God, a brother and apostle of truth, a child of music, a citizen of the new Jerusalem.

Let us see whether we can apply these thoughts to matters more distinctively religious. The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God." Then we have no discussion with him at all; he is outside: but if all the world could say in one personality, "I believe in God," then any differences that may arise after that are matters of opinion, and are matters comparatively frivolous and trivial. To believe in God—call him by what name you please—God, Father, Force, Secret, Jove,—to believe in God is the vital faith. That begets reverence, awe, noblest veneration, sense of infinity and majesty; that sets up the standard by which all other rights and claims are measured and assessed. Some man will say, How? He must not, therefore, be called an atheist. If a man shall say, I cannot follow pulpit reasoning or Church teaching, or what is generally regarded as popular theology; but as a man of science, and devoted to patient investigation of what I consider facts, I am bound to say that there is an inscrutable Power, a Force, a Secret,—do not call that man an atheist. He has seized the reality. He is one of the men who will say, How? But if he asks that question modestly, tremblingly, and in the true spirit of science, which is a spirit of serenity and of hopefulness and divine imagination, he is not to be blasted as a leper and looked upon as a foe and a pestilence in society. Having got into the presence of a Force, a Secret, an Inscrutability, he may, by-and-by get farther. He will not get farther if you discourage him, if you take away his reputation, or make an assault upon his character; but if he says, There is above all things, and within them, a Secret Life or Force that explains all things,—he is at God"s door, the next knock, and he may be inside. There are those who take a very hostile relation to essential truths, and they are to be regarded and stigmatised and avoided accordingly. I could have no communication with a man who blatantly, immodestly, and vulgarly said, "There is no God." I do not live in his universe, I do not speak his language, I have simply nothing at all to do with him. He is not an agnostic, he is an atheist—a denier. I draw, therefore, broad lines between a man who says, "I do not know, I wish I knew!" and the man who denies and repudiates the whole conception of God. With such persons I have no connection; I do not know them; and when they appear to be anxious to disestablish the Church, I say, Never! I prefer the Church, the Pope, to such atheism as yours.

Let us therefore carefully distinguish between a man who denies resurrection, and a man who says, "How are the dead raised up? and with what body shall they come?"—between a man who says, "There is a Force, a Secret, there is what you call God," and the man who says, "There is no God, for the only god we can worship is the sum-total of humanity."

Take another fundamental doctrine—that God only can destroy sin, or obliterate it, if that be more in harmony with scientific findings, or can neutralise it if destruction be an impossibility. Let any man assent to that, and he is evangelical. There may be different theories, even of the work of the blessed Christ; wise and learned men have differed in their interpretations of Christian doctrine, and yet they have been at one on the basis of this truth, that sin can only be neutralised by Divine agency. That is to say, it lies not within the scope of the sinner to undo his work or recreate his soul. This also admits of the proof of illustration. Man cannot undo his own work in all instances, if he can do so in any, which is questionable. Destroy a flower: now let any man undo his work, and put that flower as it was. He cannot. Let him tear one little leaf from a flower, now let him put it back again; let him undo his work. He cannot. Let a man take up the crystal vase and dash it into a thousand pieces, and put it together again as it was. He cannot. He can perform a kind of small miracle to which he may justly call the attention of his friends as exhibiting a piece of rare handiwork, but the crystal is not what it was before. There is plenty of riveting, and cementing, and covering up of defects and flaws done with great skill, but the crystal is wounded at the heart, it cannot be undone. Recall a sound. You have uttered a word—bring it back. You cannot. It must go on long as eternity endures. Science has its mysteries as well as theology. Now the reasoning may stand thus: if a man cannot undo the work of his hand, how can he undo the work of his heart? If he cannot put together a crystal which he has broken, how can he put together a character which he has shattered? If a man cannot recall a sound uttered by his own voice, how can he recall some act of treason, some deed of felony against the throne of God?

Here we find the basis of true union. Do not go up and down amongst a man"s opinions asking which of them you can adopt: inquire into the man"s central purpose and thought and life; how does the man stand fundamentally, in relation to vital and essential truths? and having discovered that, join him in fellowship, and say, regarding opinions, Do not exaggerate their importance, do not look upon them as final; it is the delight of life to grow in judgment, to vary in opinion; this is a sign of vitality, and educative progress and civilisation, but we are agreed in this, are we not? that we believe in God. Things are not under the rule of what is called fortuitousness or chance, or the misrule of mere accident; there is above all things and within them a shaping Hand, a directing Mind, a sovereign Power: on that let us hold sweet fellowship; let us weep together, it need be, before this great mystery that we may be strengthened by the very expression of our emotions. We do believe in this, do we not? that man cannot undo his own sin; that if it is to be undone or neutralised it must be done by Divine agency. Are we agreed there? Then let us hold fellowship, communion; and let us never forget that we have seen that the forgiveness of sin is nothing short of a Divine miracle: as to theories, opinions, speculations, theological dreamings, and imaginings, we have nothing to do with these; we are at one on a greater central fact.

Recur to the question: if a man were to say to you, "There is no such thing as honesty," what would you think of him? Suppose a man should say to you, "There is no such thing as truth," what judgment would you form about that man"s character? how far would you trust him? in what estimation would you hold every word he utters? Suppose a man should say to you, "Virtue is an impossibility: there is no virtue: it is a mere name," would you admit him to your household confidence, would you open the door to him, and bid him heartily welcome to your hospitality? Has he not a right to his opinion as much as any other man may have? He says, "There is no honesty—I have come to see you: there is no truth—I have come to spend an evening at your fireside: there is no virtue—I have come to make my home in your house." How would that suit? We are not now talking theology: we are talking the kind of common-sense without which society cannot co-exist one moment. Here you insist upon unity, faith in essential verities: yet when a man says, "There is no God," we are prone to represent him as a very vigorous and independent thinker. I say no. He was right who called him "fool." But how we contradict ourselves; in what a mesh of inconsistency we live! If a man should say to us, "There is no truth, there is no honesty, there is no virtue, there is no right, there is no wrong," we should avoid that man as we should avoid a pest: but if a man shall deny all these things, which he really does, though not apparently, by denying the existence of God, we call him an advanced thinker, a progressive and independent mind. I do not. I say that any man who denies the existence of God is the most dangerous character that lives. I will refer you to the consummation of his life. I have never known a man give up what we call religion, that Isaiah , in its essentials and fundamentals, and grow; he never grew in tenderness, in sympathy, in beneficence, in love of art, in love of music, in love of children. He cannot grow. The economy of the universe is dead against him. Many a man I have known who was not distinguished for greatness and energy of mind, but who has been distinguished by simplicity and earnestness of religious faith, whose life has been a continual and beneficent progress; he has mellowed, softened, chastened, and become more generous, more charitable, more helpful to his neighbour. To accept God is to grow up into light and liberty and manhood. This is the testimony we bear, and the flying years do not diminish—they intensify—our emphasis.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-corinthians-15.html. 1885-95.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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