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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Corinthians 15

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-34

Chapter 21

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

I. ITS PLACE IN THE CHRISTIAN CREED

PAUL having now settled the minor questions of order in public worship, marriage, intercourse with the heathen, and the other various difficulties which were distracting the Corinthian Church, turns at last to a matter of prime importance and perennial interest: the resurrection of the body. This great subject he handles not in the abstract, but with a view to the particular attitude and beliefs of the Corinthians. Some of them said broadly, "There is no resurrection of the dead," although apparently they had no intention of denying that Christ had risen. Accordingly Paul proceeds to show them that the resurrection of Christ and that of His followers hang together, that the resurrection of Christ is essential to the Christian creed, that it is amply attested, and that although great difficulties surround the subject, making it impossible to conceive what the risen body will be, yet the resurrection of the body is to be looked forward to with confident hope.

It will be most convenient to consider first the place which the resurrection of Christ holds in the Christian creed; but that we may follow Paul’s argument and appreciate its force, it will be necessary to make clear to our own mind what he meant by the resurrection of Christ and what position the Corinthians sought to maintain.

First, by the resurrection of Christ Paul meant His rising from the grave with a body glorified or made fit for the new and heavenly life He had entered. Paul did not believe that the body he saw on the road to Damascus was the very body which had hung upon the cross, made of the same material, subject to the same conditions. He affirms in this chapter that flesh and blood, a natural body, cannot enter upon the heavenly life. It must pass through a process which entirely alters its material. Paul had seen bodies consumed to ashes, and he knew that the substance of these bodies could not be recovered. He was aware that the material of the human body is dissolved, and is by the processes of nature used for the constructing of the bodies of fishes, wild beasts, birds; that as the body was sustained in life by the produce of the earth, so in death it is mingled with the earth again, giving back to earth what it had received. The arguments, therefore, commonly urged against the Resurrection had no relevancy against that in which Paul believed, for it was not that very thing which was buried which he expected would rise again, but a body different in kind, in material, and in capacity.

But yet Paul always speaks as if there were some connection between the present and the future, the natural and the spiritual, body. He speaks, too, of the body of Christ as the type or specimen into the likeness of which the bodies of His people are to be transformed. Now, if we conceive, or try to conceive, what passed in that closed sepulchre in the garden of Joseph, we can only suppose that the body of flesh and blood which was taken down from the cross and laid there was transformed into a spiritual body by a process which may be called miraculous, but which differed from the process which is to operate in ourselves only by its rapidity. We do not understand the process; but is that the only thing we do not understand? All along the line which marks off this world from the spiritual world mystery broods; and the fact that we do not understand how the body Christ had worn on earth passed into a body fit for another kind of life ought not to prevent our believing that such a transmutation can take place.

There are in nature many forces of which we know nothing, and it may one day appear to us most natural that the spirit should clothe itself with a spiritual body. The connection between the two bodies is the persistent and identical spirit which animates both. As the life that is in the body now assimilates material and forms the body to its particular mould, so may the spirit hereafter, when ejected from its present dwelling, have power to clothe itself with a body suited to its needs. Paul refuses to recognise any insuperable difficulty here. The transmutation of the earthly body of Christ into a glorified body will be repeated in the case of many of His followers, for, as he says, "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."

Secondly, we must understand the position occupied by those whom Paul addressed in this chapter. They doubted the Resurrection; but in that day, as in our own, the Resurrection was denied from two opposite points of view. Materialists, such as the Sadducees, believing that mental and spiritual life are only manifestations of physical life and dependent upon it, necessarily concluded that with the death of the body the whole life of the individual terminates. And it would rather appear as if the Corinthians were tainted with materialism. "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," can only be the suggestion of the materialist, who believes in no future life of any kind.

But many who opposed materialism held that the resurrection of the body, if not impossible, was at all events undesirable. It was the fashion to speak contemptuously of the body. It was branded as the source and seat of sin, as the untamed bullock which dragged its yokefellow, the soul, out of the straight path. Philosophers gave thanks to God that He had not tied their spirit to an immortal body, and refused to allow their portrait to be taken, lest they should be remembered and honoured by means of their material part. When Paul’s teaching was accepted by such persons, they laid great stress on his inculcation of the mystical or spiritual dying with Christ and rising again, until they persuaded themselves this was all he meant by resurrection. They declared that the Resurrection was past already, and that all believing men were already risen in Christ. To be free from all connection with matter was an essential element in their idea of salvation, and to promise them the resurrection of the body was to offer them a very doubtful blessing indeed.

In our own day the resurrection of Christ is denied both from the materialist and from the spiritualist or idealist point of view. It is said that the Resurrection of Christ is an undoubted fact if by the resurrection be meant that His spirit survived death and now lives in us. But the bodily resurrection is a thing of no account. Not from the risen body flows the power that has altered human history, but from the teachings and life of Christ and from His devotement of Himself even unto death to the interests of men. Christ lay in His grave, and the elements of His body have passed into the bosom of nature, as ours will before long; but His spirit was not imprisoned in the grave: it lives, perhaps in us. Statements to this effect you may hear or read frequently in our day. And either of two very different beliefs may be expressed in such language. It may, on the one hand, mean that the person Jesus is individually extinct, and that although virtue still flows from His life, as from that of every good man, He is Himself unconscious of this and of everything else, and can exert no new and fresh influence, such as emanates from a person presently alive and aware of the exigencies appealing to His interference. This is plainly a form of belief entirely different from that of the Apostles, who, acted for a living Lord, to whom they appealed and by whom they were guided. Belief in a dead Christ, who cannot hear prayer and is unconscious of our service, may indeed help a mart who has nothing better to help him; but it is. not the belief of the Apostles.

On the other hand, it may be meant that although the body of Christ remained in the tomb, His spirit survived death, and lives a disembodied but conscious and powerful life. One of the profoundest German critics, Keim, has expressed himself to this effect. The Apostles, he thinks, did not see the actual risen body of the Lord; their visions of a glorified Jesus were not, however, delusive; the appearances were not the creations of their own excitement, but were intentionally produced by the Lord Himself. Jesus, it is believed, had actually passed into a higher life, and was as full of consciousness and of power as He had been on earth; and of this glorified life in which He was He gave the Apostles assurance by these appearances. The body of the Lord remained in the tomb; but these appearances were intended, to use the critic’s own words, as a kind of telegram, to assure them He was alive. Had such a sign of His continued and glorified life not been given, their belief in Him as the Messiah could not have survived the death on the cross.

This view, although erroneous, can do little harm to experimental or practical Christianity. The difference between a disembodied spirit and a spiritual body is really unappreciable to our present knowledge. And if anyone finds it impossible to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but easy to believe in His present life and power, it would only be mischievous to require of him a faith he cannot give in addition to a faith which brings him into real fellowship with Christ. The main purpose of Christ’s appearances was to give to His disciples assurance of His continued life and power. If that assurance already exists, then belief in Christ as alive and supreme supersedes the use of the usual stepping-stone towards that belief.

At the same time, it must be maintained that not only did the Apostles believe they saw the body of Christ, by which indeed they first of all identified Him, but also they were distinctly assured that the body they saw was not a ghost or a telegram, but a veritable body that could stand handling, and whose lips and throat could utter sound. Besides, it is not in reason to suppose that when they saw this appearance, whatever it was, they should not at once go to the sepulchre and see what was there. And if there they saw the body while in various other places they saw what seemed to be the body, what world of incomprehensible and mystifying jugglery must they have felt themselves to be involved in!

It is a fact then that those who knew most both about the body and about the spirit of Jesus believed they saw the body and were encouraged so to believe. Besides, if we accept the view that though Christ is alive, His body remained in the grave, we are at once confronted with the difficulty that Christ’s glorification is not yet complete. If Christ’s body did not partake in His conquest over the grave, then that conquest is partial and incomplete. Human nature both in this life and in the life to come is composed of body and spirit; and if Christ now sits at God’s right hand in perfected human nature, it is not as a disembodied spirit, but as a complete person in a glorified body, we must conceive of Him. No doubt it is a spiritual influence which Christ now exerts upon His followers, and their belief in His risen life may be independent of any statements made by the disciples concerning His body; at the same time, to suppose that Christ is now without a body is to suppose that He is imperfect: and it must also be remembered that the primitive faith and restored confidence in Christ, to which the very existence of the Church is due, were created by the sight of the empty tomb and the glorified body.

In the face of such chapters as this and other passages equally explicit, modern believers in a merely spiritual resurrection have found some difficulty in reconciling their views with the statements of Paul Mr. Matthew Arnold undertakes to show us how this may be done. "Not for a moment," he says, do we deny that in Paul’s earlier theology, and notably in the Epistles to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, the physical and miraculous aspect of the Resurrection, both Christ’s and the believer’s, is primary and predominant. Not for a moment do we deny that to the very end of his life, after the Epistle to the Romans, after the Epistle to the Philippians, if he had been asked whether he held the doctrine of the Resurrection in the physical and miraculous sense as well as in his own spiritual and mystical sense, he would have replied with entire conviction that he did. Very likely it would have been impossible to him to imagine his theology without it. But-

‘Below the surface stream, shallow and light,

Of what we say we feel-below the stream,

As light, of what we think we feel, there flows

With noiseless current strong, obscure and deep,

The central stream of what we feel indeed;’

and by this alone are we truly characterised. This, however, is not to interpret an author, but to make him a mere nose of wax that can be worked into any convenient shape. Probably Paul understood his own theology quite as well as Mr. Arnold; and, as his critic says, he considered the physical resurrection of Christ and the believer an essential part of it.

Considering the place which our Lord’s risen body had in Paul’s conversion, it could not be otherwise. At the very moment when Paul’s whole system of thought was in a state of fusion the risen Lord was preeminently impressed upon it. It was through his conviction of the resurrection of Christ that both Paul’s theology and his character were once for all radically altered. The idea of a crucified Messiah had been abhorrent to him, and his life was dedicated to the extirpation of this vile heresy that sprang from the Cross. But from the moment when with his own eyes he saw the risen Lord he understood, with the rest of the disciples, that death was the Messiah’s appointed path to supreme spiritual headship. As truly in Paul’s case as in that of the other disciples faith sprang from the sight of the glorified Christ; and to none could it be so inevitable as to him to say, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." From the first Paul had put the resurrection of Christ forward as an essential and fundamental part of the Gospel he had received, and which he was accustomed to deliver.

And, generally speaking, this place is. assigned to it both by believers and by unbelievers. It is recognised that it was the belief in the Resurrection which first revived the hopes of Christ’s followers and drew them together to wait for the promise of His Spirit. It is recognised that whether the Resurrection be a fact or no, the Church of Christ was founded on the belief that it had taken place, so that if that had been removed the Church could not have been. This is affirmed as decisively by unbelievers as by believers. The great leader of modern unbelief (Strauss) declares that the Resurrection is "the centre of the centre, the real heart of Christianity as it has been until now"; while one of his ablest opponents says, "The Resurrection created the Church, the risen Christ made Christianity; and even now the Christian faith stands or fails with Him. If it be true that no living Christ ever issued from the tomb of Joseph, then that tomb becomes the grave, not of a man, but of a religion, with all the hopes built on it and all the splendid enthusiasms it has inspired" (Fairbairn).

It is not difficult to perceive what it was in the resurrection of Christ which gave it this importance.

1. First, it was the convincing proof that Christ’s words were true, and that He was what He had claimed to be. He Himself had on more occasions than one hinted that such proof was to be given. "Destroy this temple," He said, "and in three days I will raise it again." The sign which was to be given, notwithstanding His habitual refusal to yield to the Jewish craving for miracle, was the sign of the prophet Jonah. As he had been thrown out and lost for three days and nights, but had thereby only been forwarded in his mission, so our Lord was to be thrown out as endangering the ship, but was to rise again to fuller and more perfect efficiency. In order that His claim to be the Messiah might be understood, it was necessary that He should die; but in order that it might be believed, it was needful that He should rise. Had He not died, His followers would have continued to expect a reign of earthly power; His death showed them no such reign could be, and convinced them His spiritual power sprang out of apparent weakness. But had He not risen again, all their hopes would have been blighted. All who had believed in Him would have joined with the Emmaus disciples in their hopeless cry, "We thought that this had been He who should have redeemed Israel."

It was the resurrection of our Lord, then, which convinced His disciples that His words had been true, that He was what He had claimed to be, and that He was not mistaken regarding His own person, His work, His relation to the Father, the prospects of Himself and His people. This was the answer given by God to the doubts, and calumnies, and accusations of men. Jesus at the last had stood alone, unsupported by one favouring voice. His own disciples forsook Him, and in their bewilderment knew not what to think. Those who considered Him a dangerous and seditious person, or at best a crazed enthusiast, found themselves backed by the voice of the people and urged to extreme measures, with none to remonstrate save the heathen judge, none to pity save a few women. This delusion, they congratulated themselves, was stamped out. And stamped out it would have been but for the Resurrection." Then it was seen that while the world had scorned the Son of God, the Father had been watching over Him with unceasing love; that while the world had placed Him at its bar as a malefactor and blasphemer, the Father had been making ready for Him a seat at His own right hand; that while the world nailed Him to the cross, the Father had been preparing for Him ‘many crowns’ and a name that is above every name; that while the world had gone to the grave in the garden, setting a watch and sealing the stone, and had then returned to its feasting and merriment, because the Preacher of righteousness was no longer there to trouble it, the Father had waited for the third morning in order to bring Him forth in triumph from the grave."

This contrast between the treatment Christ received at the hands of men and His justification by the Father in the Resurrection fills and colours all the addresses delivered by the Apostles to the people in the immediately succeeding days. They evidently accepted the Resurrection as God’s great attestation to the person and work of Christ. It changed their own thoughts about Him, and they expected it would change the thoughts of other men. They saw now that His death was one of the necessary steps in His career, one of the essential parts of the work He had come to do. Had Christ not been raised, they would have thought Him weak and mistaken as other men. The beauty and promise of His words which had so attracted them would now have seemed delusive and unbearable. But in the light of the Resurrection they saw that the Christ "ought to have suffered these things and so to enter His glory." They could now confidently say, "He died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification."

2. Secondly, the resurrection of Christ occupies a fundamental place in the Christian creed, because by it there is disclosed a real and close connection between this world and the unseen, eternal world. There is no need now of argument to prove a life beyond; here is one who is in it. For the resurrection of Christ was not a return to this life, to its wants, to its limitations, to its inevitable close: but it was a resurrection to a life forever beyond death. Neither was it a discarding of humanity on Christ’s part, a cessation of His acceptance of human conditions, a rising to some kind of existence to which man has no access. On the contrary, it was because He continued truly human that in human body and with human soul He rose to veritable human life beyond the grave. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the world into which He is gone is a real world, in which men can live more fully than they live here. If He rose from the dead, then there is an unseen Spirit mightier than the strongest material powers, a God who is seeking to bring us out of all evil into an eternally happy condition. Quite reasonably is death invested with a certain majesty, if not terror, as the mightiest of physical things. There may be greater evils; but they do not affect all men, but only some, or they debar men from certain enjoyments and a certain kind of life, but not from all. But death shuts men out from everything with which they have here to do, and launches them into a condition of which they know absolutely nothing. Anyone who conquers death and scatters its mystery, who shows in his own person that it is innocuous, and that it actually betters our condition, brings us light that reaches us from no other quarter. And He who shows this superiority over death in virtue of a moral superiority, and uses it for the furtherance of the highest spiritual ends, shows a command over the whole affairs of men which makes it easy to believe He can guide us into a condition like His own. As Peter affirms, it is "by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we are begotten again unto a lively hope."

3. For, lastly, it is in the resurrection of Christ we see at once the norm or type of our life here and of our destiny hereafter. Holiness and immortality are two aspects, two manifestations, of the Divine life we receive from Christ. They are inseparable the one from the other. His Spirit is the source of both. "If the Spirit that raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall, also quicken your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you." If we have now the one evidence of His indwelling in us, we shall one day have the other. The hope that should uplift and purify every part of the Christian’s character is a hope which is shadowy, unreal, inoperative, in those who merely know about Christ and His work; it becomes a living hope, full of immortality in all who are now actually drawing their life from Christ, who have their life truly hid with Christ in God, who are in heart and will one with the Most High, in whom is all life.

Therefore does Paul so continually hold up to us the risen life of Christ as that to which we are to be conformed. We are to rise with Him to newness of life. As Christ has done with death, having died to sin once, so must His people be dead to sin and live to God with Him. Sometimes in weariness or dejection one feels as if he had seen the best of everything, experienced all he can experience, and must now simply endure life; he sees no prospect of anything fresh, or attractive or reviving. But this is not because he has exhausted life, but because he has not begun it. To the "children of the Resurrection," who have followed Christ in His path to life by renouncing sin, and conquering self, and giving themselves to God, there is a springing life in their own soul that renews hope and energy.

Chapter 22

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

II. ITS PROOF

PAUL, having affirmed that the resurrection of Christ is an essential element of the Gospel, proceeds to sketch the evidence for the fact. That evidence mainly consists in the attestation of those who at various times and in various places and circumstances had seen the Lord after His death. Other evidence there is, as Paul indicates. In certain unspecified passages of the Old Testament he thinks a discerning reader might have found sufficient intimation that when the Messiah came He would both die and rise again. But as he himself had not at first recognised these intimations in the Old Testament, he does not press them upon others, but appeals to the simple fact that many of those who had been familiar with the appearance of Christ while He lived saw Him after death alive.

As a preliminary to the positive evidence here adduced by Paul, it may be remarked that we have no record of any contemporary denial of the fact, save only the story put in the mouths of the soldiers, by the chief priests. Matthew tells us that it was currently reported that the soldiers who had been on guard at the sepulchre were bribed by the priests and elders to say that the disciples had come in the night and stolen the body. But whatever temporary purpose they fancied this might serve, the great purpose it now serves is to prove the truth of the Resurrection, for the main point is admitted, the tomb was empty. As for the story itself, its falsehood must have been apparent; and probably no one in Jerusalem was so simple as to be taken in by it. For, in point of fact, the authorities had taken steps to prevent this very thing. They were resolved there should be no tampering with the grave, and accordingly had set their official seal upon it and placed a guard to watch.

The evidence thus unintentionally furnished by the authorities is important. Their action after the Resurrection proves that the tomb was empty; while their action previous to the Resurrection proves that it was emptied by no ordinary interposition, but by the actual rising of Jesus from the dead. So beyond doubt was this that when Peter stood before the Sanhedrin and affirmed it no one was hardy enough to contradict him. Had they been able to persuade themselves that the disciples had tampered with the guard, or overpowered them, or terrified them in the night by strange appearances, why did they not prosecute the disciples for breaking the official seal? Could they have had a more plausible pretext for exploding the Christian faith and stamping out the nascent heresy? They were perplexed and alarmed at the growth of the Church; what hindered them from bringing proof that there had been no resurrection? They had every inducement to do so, yet they did not. If the body was still in the grave, nothing was easier than to produce it; if the grave was empty, as they affirmed, because the disciples had stolen the body, no more welcome handle against them could have been furnished to the authorities. But they could riot in open court pretend any such thing. They knew that what their guard reported was true. In short, there was no object the Sanhedrin would more gladly have compassed than to explode the belief in the resurrection of Christ; if that belief was false, they had ample means of showing it to be so: and yet they did absolutely nothing that had any weight with the public mind. It is apparent that not only the disciples, but the authorities, were compelled to admit the fact of the Resurrection.

The idea that there was only a pretended resurrection, vamped up by the disciples, may therefore be dismissed; and indeed no well-informed person nowadays would venture to affirm such a thing. It is admitted by those who deny the Resurrection as explicitly as by those who affirm it that the disciples had a bona fide belief that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive. The only question is, How was that belief produced? And to this question there are three answers: (1) that the disciples saw our Lord alive after the Crucifixion, but He had never been dead; (2) that they only thought they saw Him; and (3) that they did actually see Him alive after being dead and buried.

1. The first answer is plainly inadequate We are asked to account for the Christian Church, for the belief in a risen Lord which animated the first disciples with a faith, a hope, a courage, whose power is felt to this day; we ask for an explanation of this singular circumstance that a number of men arrived at the conclusion that they had an almighty Friend, One who had all power in heaven and on earth; and we are told, in explanation of this, that they had seen their Master barely rescued from crucifixion, creeping about the earth, scarcely able to move, all stained with blood, soiled from the tomb, pale, weak, helpless, and this object caused them to believe He was almighty. As one of the most sceptical of critics himself says, "one who had thus crept forth half dead from the grave and crawled about a sickly patient, needing medical and surgical assistance, nursing and strengthening, and who finally succumbed to his sufferings, could never have given his followers the impression-that he was the Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life. Such a recovery could only have weakened or at best given a pathetic tinge to the impression which he had made upon them by his life and death; it could not possibly have changed their sorrow into ecstasy, and raised their reverence into worship."

This explanation then may be dismissed. It is neither in harmony with the facts, nor is it adequate as an explanation.

It is not in harmony with the facts, because the fact of His death was certified by the surest authority. There was in the world at that time, and there is in the world now, nothing more punctiliously accurate than a soldier trained under the old Roman discipline. The punctilious exactness of this discipline is seen in the conduct both of the soldiers at the cross and of Pilate. Though the soldiers see that Jesus is dead, they make sure of His death by a spear thrust, a hand-breadth wide, sufficient of itself, as they very well knew, to cause death. And when Pilate is applied to for the body, he will not give it up until he has received from the centurion on duty the necessary certificate that the sentence of death has actually been executed.

Neither is the supposition that Jesus survived the Crucifixion and appeared to His disciples in this rescued condition any explanation of their faith in Him as a risen, glorious almighty Lord. The Person they saw and afterwards believed in was not a bleeding, crushed, defeated man, who had death still to look forward to, but a Person who had passed through and conquered death, and was now alive for evermore, opening for Himself and to them the gates of a glorious and deathless life.

2. The belief of the disciples is explained with greater appearance of insight by those who say that they imagined they saw the risen Lord, although in reality they did not. There are, it is pointed out, several ways in which the disciples may have been deceived. For example, some clever and scheming person may have personated Jesus. Such personations have been made, but never with such results. When Postumus Agrippa was killed, one of his slaves secreted or dispersed the ashes of the murdered man, to destroy the evidence of his death, and retired for a time till his hair and beard were grown, to favour a certain likeness which he actually bore him. Meanwhile, taking a few intimates into his confidence, he spread a report, which found ready listeners, that Agrippa still lived. He glided from town to town, showing himself in the dusk for a few minutes only at a time to men prepared for the sudden apparition, until it came to be noised abroad that the gods had saved the grandson of Agrippa from the fate intended for him, and that he was about to visit the city and claim his rightful inheritance. But no sooner did the vulgar imposture take this practical shape and come into contact with the realities of life than the whole trick exploded. Imposture, in fact, does not fit the case before us at all; and the more we consider the combination of qualities required in anyone who could undertake to personate the risen Lord, the more we shall be persuaded that the right explanation of the belief in the Resurrection is not to be sought in this direction. Again, one of the most reasonable and influential of our contemporaries ascribes "the great myth of Christ’s bodily revival to the belief on the part of the disciples that such a soul could not become extinct. In a lesser way the grave of a beloved friend has been to many a man the birthplace of his faith; and it is obvious that in the case of Christ every condition was fulfilled which would raise such sudden conviction to the height of passionate fervour. The first words of the disciples to one another on that Easter morn may well have been ‘He is not dead. His spirit is this day in paradise among the sons of God."’ Quite so; they of course believed that his spirit was in paradise, and for that very reason fully expected to find His body in the tomb. No ordinary visit to a grave, nor any ordinary results flowing from such a visit, throw light on the case before us, because in ordinary circumstances sane men do not believe that their friends are restored to them, and are standing in bodily palpable shape before them. There is no likelihood whatever that their belief in the continued existence of their Master’s spirit should have given rise to the conviction that they had seen Him. It might have given rise to such expressions as that He would be with them to the end of the world, but not to the conviction that they had seen Him in the body. Here, again, is Renan’s account of the growth of this belief": To Jesus was to happen the same fortune which is the lot of all men who have rivetted the attention of their fellow men. The world, accustomed to attribute to them superhuman virtues, cannot admit that they have submitted to the unjust, revolting, iniquitous law of the death common to all. At the moment in which Mahomet expired Omar rushed from the tent, sword in hand, and declared that he would hew down anyone who should dare to say that the prophet was no more Heroes do not die. What is true existence but the recollection of us which survives in the hearts of those who love us? For some years this adored Master had filled the little world by which He was surrounded with joy and hope; could they consent to allow Him to the decay of the tomb? No; He had lived so entirely in those who surrounded Him, that they could but affirm that after His death He was still living." M. Renan is careful not to remind us that the uproar occasioned by Omar’s announcement was stilled by the calm voice of Abu Bekr, who also came forth from the deathbed of Mahomet with the memorable words, "Whoso hath worshipped Mahomet, let him know that Mahomet is dead, but whoso hath worshipped God that the Lord liveth and doth not die." The great critic omits also to notice that none of the Apostles said, like Omar, that their Master was not dead; they admitted and felt His death keenly; and it is vain to attempt to confound things essentially distinct, the as sertion of a matter of fact, viz., that the Lord had risen again, with the sentimental or regretful resuscitation of a man’s image in the hearts of his surviving friends.

Besides, it should be observed that all these hypotheses, which explain the belief in the Resurrection by supposing that the disciples imagined that they had seen Christ, or persuaded themselves that He still lived, omit altogether to explain how they disposed of the tomb of our Lord, in which, according to this hypothesis, His body was still quietly reposing. One or two persons in a peculiarly excitable state might suppose they had seen a figure resembling a person about whom they were concerned; but how the belief that the tomb was empty could take any hold on them, or on the thousands who must have visited it in the succeeding weeks, is not explained, nor is any attempt made to explain it.

Is there, then, no possibility of the disciples having been deceived? May they not have been mistaken? May they not have seen what they wished to see, as other men have sometimes done? Men of vivid fancy or of a boastful spirit sometimes come really to believe they have done and said things they never did or said. Is it out of the question to imagine that the disciples may have been similarly misled? Had the belief in the Resurrection depended on the report of one man, had there been only one or a few eyewitnesses of the matter, their evidence might have been explained away on this ground. It is possible, of course, that one or two persons who were anxiously looking for the Resurrection of Jesus might have persuaded themselves they saw Him, might persuade themselves that some distant figure or some gleam of morning sunshine among the trees of the garden was the looked for person. It requires no profound psychological knowledge to teach us that occasionally visions are seen. But what we have here to explain is how not one but several persons, not together, but in different places and at different times, not all in one mood of mind but in various moods, came to believe they had seen the risen Lord. He was recognised, not by persons who expected to see Him alive, but by women who went to anoint Him dead; not by credulous, excitable persons, but by men who would not believe till they had gone to and into the sepulchre; not by persons so enthusiastic and creative of their own belief as to mistake any passing stranger or even a gleam of light for Him they sought, but so slow to believe, so scornfully incredulous of resurrection, so resolutely sceptical, and so keenly alive to the possibility of delusion, that they vowed nothing would satisfy them but the test of touch and sight. It was a belief produced, not by one extraordinary and doubtful appearance, but by repeated and prolonged appearances to persons in various places and of various temperaments.

This supposition, therefore, that the disciples were prepared to believe in the Resurrection and wished to: believe it, and that what they wished to see they thought they saw, must be given up. It has never been shown that the disciples had such a belief; it formed no part of the Jewish creed regarding the Messiah: and the idea that they actually were in this expectant state of mind is thoroughly contradicted by the narrative. So far from being hopeful, they were sad and gloomy, as witness the melancholy, resigned despair of the two friends on the road to Emmaus.

"It is a woe ‘too deep for tears’ when all

Is reft at once, when some surpassing spirit,

Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves

Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,

But pale despair and cold tranquillity."

"Such was the state of mind of the bereft disciples." They thought all was over. The women who went with their spices to anoint the dead-they certainly were not expecting to find their Lord risen. The men to whom they announced what they had seen were sceptical; some of them laughed at the women, and called their report "idle tales," and would not believe. Mary Magdalene was so little expecting to see her Lord alive again, that when He did appear to her she thought He was the gardener, the only person she dreamt of seeing going about at that hour in the garden. Thomas, with all the resolute distrust of others which a modern sceptic could show, vows he will believe such a wild imagination on no man’s word, and unless he sees the Lord with his own eyes and is allowed to test the reality of the figure by touch as well, he will not be convinced. To the disciples on the way to Emmaus, though they had never heard such conversation before as that of the Person who joined them, it never once occurred that this could be the Lord. In short there was not one person to whom our Lord appeared who was not taken wholly by surprise. So far were they from depicting the Resurrection in their hopes and fancies with such vividness as to make it seem to take outward shape and reality, that even when it did actually take place they could scarcely believe it on the strongest evidence. We are compelled, therefore, to dismiss the idea that the first disciples believed in the resurrection because they wished to do so and were prepared to do so.

3. There remains, therefore, only the third explanation of the disciples’ belief in the Resurrection: they did see Him alive after He had been dead and buried. Plainly it was no phantom, or ghost, or imaginary appearance which could personate their lost Master and rouse them from the despondency, and inaction, and timidity of disappointed hopes to the calmest consistency of plan and the firmest courage. It was no vision created by their own imagination which could at once and forever alter the idea of the Messiah which the disciples in common with all their countrymen held. It was no phantom who could imitate the impressive individuality of the Lord and continue His identity into new scenes, who could inspire the disciples with unity of purpose, and who could lead them forward to the most splendid victories men have ever won. No; nothing will explain the faith of the Apostles and of the rest but the fact of their really seeing the Lord after His death clothed in power. The men who said they had seen Him were men of probity; they were men who showed themselves worthy of being witnesses to so great an event; men animated by no paltry spirit of vainglory, but by seriousness, even sublimity, of mind; men whose lives and conduct require an explanation, and which are explained by their having been brought in contact with the spiritual world in this surprising and solemnising manner.

The testimony of Paul himself is in some respects more convincing than that of those who saw the Lord immediately after the Resurrection. Certainly he was neither anxious to believe nor likely to be ignorant of the facts. He had devoted himself to the extermination of the new faith; all his hopes as a Pharisee and as a Jew were banded against it. He had the best means of ascertaining the truth, living on terms of friendship with the leading men in Jerusalem. It is simply inconceivable that he should have abandoned all his prospects and entered on a wholly different life without carefully investigating the chief fact which influenced him in making this change. It is of course said that Paul was a nervous, excitable creature, probably epileptic, and certainly liable to see visions. It is insinuated that his conversion was due to the combined influence of epilepsy and a thunderstorm-of all the unlucky suggestions of modern scepticism perhaps the. unluckiest. Were it true, one could only wish epilepsy commoner than it is. We have to account not only for Paul’s conversion, but for his abiding by the convictions at first produced in him. It is out of the question to suppose that he did not spend much of the immediately succeeding years in examining the grounds of the Christen faith and in questioning himself as to his own belief. Paul was no doubt eager and enthusiastic, but no man was ever better fitted to move among the realities of life or to ascertain what these realities are. Englishmen regard Paley as one of the best representatives of the combined acuteness and sense, penetration and solidity of judgment, by which English judges are supposed to be characterised; and Paley says of Paul, "His letters furnish evidence of the soundness and sobriety of his judgment, and his morality is everywhere calm, pure, and rational; adapted to the condition, the activity, and the business of social life and of its various relations; free from the over scrupulousness and austerities of superstition, and from what was more perhaps to be apprehended, the abstractions of quietism and the soarings and extravagances of fanaticism." But really no person of ordinary capacity needs certificates of Paul’s sanity. No saner or more commanding intellect ever headed a complex and difficult movement. There is no one of that generation whose testimony to the Resurrection is more worth having, and we have it in the most emphatic form of a life based upon it.

No one, so far as I know, who has taken a serious interest in the evidence adduced for this event, has denied that it would be quite sufficient to authenticate any ordinary historical event. In point of fact, the majority of the events of past history are accepted on much slenderer evidence than that which we have for the Resurrection. The evidence we have for it is of precisely the same kind as that on which we accept ordinary events; it is the testimony of the persons concerned, the simple statements of eyewitnesses and of those who were acquainted with eyewitnesses. It is not a prophetical, or poetical, or symbolical, or supernatural statement, but the plain and unvarnished testimony of ordinary men. The accounts vary in many particulars, but as to the central fact that the Lord rose and was seen over and over again there is no variation, and such variations as there are merely such as exist in all similar accounts by different individuals of one and the same event. In short, the evidence can be refused only on the ground that no evidence, however strong, could prove such an incredible event. It is admitted that the evidence would be accepted in any other case, but this reported event is in itself incredible.

The idea of any interference with the physical laws which rule the world, no matter how important an end is to be served by the interference, is rejected as out of the question. This seems to me quite an illogical method of dealing with the subject. The supernatural is rejected as a preliminary, so as to bar any consideration of the most appropriate evidences of the supernatural. Before looking at that which, if not the most effective proof of the supernatural, is at least among those arguments which chiefly deserve attention, the mind is made up to reject all evidence of the supernatural.

The first business of scientific men is to look at facts. Many facts which at first sight seemed to contradict previously ascertained laws were ultimately found to indicate the presence of a higher law. Why are men of science so terrified by the word "miracle"? This event may, like the visit of a comet, have occurred only once in the world’s history; but it need not on that account be irreducible to law or to reason. The resurrection of Christ is unique, because He is unique. Find another Person bearing the same relation to the race and living the same life, and you will find a similar resurrection. To say that it is unusual or unprecedented is to say nothing at all to the purpose.

Besides, those who reject the resurrection of Christ as impossible are compelled to accept art equally astounding moral miracle-the miracle, I mean, that those who had the best means of ascertaining the truth and every possible inducement to ascertain it should all have been deceived, and that this deception should have been the most fruitful source of good, not only to them, but to the whole world.

We are brought then to the conclusion that the disciples believed in the resurrection of Christ because it had actually taken place. No other account of their belief has ever been given which commends itself to the common understanding which accepts what appeals to it. No account of the belief has been given which is at all likely to gain currency or which is more credible than that which it seeks to supplant. The belief in the Resurrection which so suddenly and effectively possessed the first disciples remains unexplained by any other supposition than the simple one that the Lord did rise again.


Verses 12-34

Chapter 23

CONSEQUENCES OF DENYING RESURRECTION

IN endeavoring to restore among the Corinthians the belief in the resurrection of the body, Paul shows the fundamental place occupied in the Christian creed by the resurrection of Christ, and what attestation His resurrection had received. He further exhibits certain consequences which flow from denial of the Resurrection. These consequences are (1) that if there is no resurrection of the body, then Christ is not risen, and that, therefore, (2) the Apostles who witnessed to that resurrection are false witnesses; (3) that those who had already died believing in Christ, had perished, and that our hope in Christ must be confined to this life; (4) that baptism for the dead is a vain folly if the dead rise not.

To the statement and discussion of these consequences Paul devotes a large part of this chapter, from verse 12 to verse 34 (1 Corinthians 15:12-34). Let us take the least important consequence first.

1. "If the dead rise not at all, what shall they do who are baptised for the dead?" (1 Corinthians 15:29)-an inquiry of which the Corinthians no doubt felt the full force, but which is rather lost upon us because we do not know what it means. Some have thought that as baptism is sometimes used in Scripture as equivalent to immersion in a sea of troubles, Paul means to ask, "What shall they do, what hope have they, who are plunged in grief for the friends they have lost?" Some think it refers to those who have been baptised with Christ’s baptism, that is to say, have suffered martyrdom and so entered into the Church of the dead. Others again think, that to be baptised "for the dead" means no more than ordinary baptism, in which the believer looks forward to the resurrection from the dead. The primitive form of baptism brought death and the resurrection vividly before the believer’s mind, and confirmed his hope in the resurrection, which hope was vain if there is no resurrection.

The plain meaning of the words, however, seems to point to a vicarious baptism, in which a living friend received baptism as a proxy for a person who had died without baptism. Of such a custom there is historical trace. Even before the Christian era, among the Jews, when a man died in a state of ceremonial defilement it was customary for a friend of the deceased to perform in his stead the washings and other rites which the dead man would have performed had he recovered. A similar practice prevailed to some small extent among the primitive Christians, although it was never admitted as a valid rite by the Church Catholic. Then, as now, it sometimes happened that on the approach of death the thoughts of unbelieving persons were strongly turned towards the Christian faith, but before baptism could be administered death cut down the intending Christian. Baptism was generally postponed until youth or even middle life was passed, in order that a large number of sins might be washed away in baptism, or that fewer might stain the soul after it. But naturally miscalculations sometimes occurred, and sudden death anticipated a long-delayed baptism. In such cases the friends of the deceased derived consolation from vicarious baptism. Some one who was persuaded of the faith of the departed answered for him and was baptised in his stead.

If Paul meant to say, On the supposition that death ends all, what is the use of anyone being baptised as proxy for a dead friend? he could not have used words more expressive of his meaning than when he says, "If the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptised for the dead?" The only difficulty is, that Paul might thus seem to draw an argument for a fundamental doctrine of Christianity from a foolish and unjustifiable practical. Is it possible that a man of such sagacity can have sanctioned or countenanced so absurd a superstition? But his alluding to this custom, in the way he here does, scarcely implies that he approved of it. He rather differentiates himself from those who practised the rite. "What shall they do who are baptised for the dead?"-referring, probably, to some of the Corinthians themselves. In any case, the point of the argument is obvious. To be baptised for those who had died without baptism, and whose future was supposed thereby to be jeopardised, had at least a show of friendliness and reason; to be baptised for those who had already passed out of existence was of course, on the face of it, absurd.

2. The second consequence which flows from the denial of the resurrection is, that Paul’s own life is a mistake. "Why stand we in jeopardy every hour? What advantageth it me to risk death daily, and to suffer daily, if the dead rise not?" If there is no resurrection, he says, my whole life is a folly. No day passes but I am in danger of death at the hands either of an infuriated mob or a mistaken magistrate. I am in constant jeopardy, in perils by land and sea, in perils of robbers, in nakedness, in fasting; all these dangers I gladly encounter because I believe in the resurrection. But "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, then we are of all men most miserable." We lose both this life and that which we thought was to come.

Paul’s meaning is plain. By the hope of a life beyond, he had been induced to undergo the greatest privations in this life. He had been exposed to countless dangers and indignities. Although a Roman citizen, he had been cast into the arena to contend with wild beasts: there was no risk he had not run, no hardship he had not endured. But in all he was sustained by the assurance that there remained for him a rest and an inheritance in a future life. Remove this assurance and you remove the assumption on which his conduct is wholly built. If there is no future life either to win or to lose, then the Epicurean motto may take the place of Christ’s promises, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

It may indeed be said that even if there be no life to come, this life is best spent in the service of man, however full of hazard and hardship that service be. That is quite true; and had Paul believed this life was all, he might still have chosen to spend it, not on sensual indulgence, but in striving to win men to something better. But in that case there would have been no deception and no disappointment. In point of fact, however, Paul believed in a life to come, and it was because he believed in that life he gave himself to the work of winning men to Christ regardless of his own pains and losses. And what he says is that if he is mistaken, then all these pains and losses have been gratuitous, and that his whole life has proceeded on a mistake. The life to which he sought to win, and for which he sought to prepare men, does not exist.

Besides, it must be acknowledged that the mass of men do sink in a merely sensual or earthly life if the hope of immortality is removed, and that Paul did not require to be very guarded in his statement of this truth. In fact, the words "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" were taken from the history of his own nation. When Jerusalem was beseiged by the Babylonians and no escape seemed possible, the people gave themselves up to recklessness and despair and sensual indulgence, saying, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Similar instances of the recklessness produced by the near approach of death may very readily be culled from the history of shipwrecks, of pestilences, and of besieged cities. In the old Jewish book, the Book of Wisdom, it finds a very beautiful expression, the following words being put into the mouth of those who knew not that man is immortal: "Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of man is no remedy; neither was any man ever known to return from the grave: for we are all born at an adventure; and shall be afterwards as though we had never been; for the breath of our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark is the moving of our heart, which, being extinguished, our bodies will be burnt to ashes, and our spirit vanish as the soft air: and our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall hold our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away like the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof Come on, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments, and let no flower of the spring pass by us; let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered, let none of us go without his share of voluptuousness; let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place, for this is our portion, and our lot is this."

It is obvious therefore that this is the conclusion which the mass of mankind draw from a disbelief in immortality. Convince men that this life is all, that death is final extinction, and they will eagerly drain this life of all the pleasure it can yield. We may say that there are some men to whom virtue is the greatest pleasure; we may say that to all the denial of appetite and self-indulgence is a more genuine pleasure than the gratification of it; we may say that virtue is its own reward, and that irrespective of the future it is right to live now spiritually and not sensually, for God and not for self; we may say that the judgments of conscience are pronounced without any regard to future consequences, and that the highest and best life for man is a life in conformity to conscience and in fellowship with God, whether such life is to be long or short, temporal or eternal. And this is true, but how are we to get men to accept it? Teach men to believe in a future life and you strengthen every moral sentiment and every Godward aspiration by revealing the true dignity of human nature. Make men feel that they are immortal beings, that this life, so far from being all, is the mere entrance and first step to existence; make men feel that there is open to them an endless moral progress, and you give them some encouragement to lay the foundations of this progress in a self-denying and virtuous life in this world. Take away this belief, encourage men to think of themselves as worthless little creatures that come into being for a few years and are blotted out again forever, and you destroy one mainspring of right action in men. It is not that men do noble deeds for the sake of reward: the hope of reward is scarcely a perceptible influence in the best of men, or indeed in any men; but in all men trained as we are, there is an indefinite consciousness that, being immortal creatures, we are made for higher ends than those of this life, and have prospects of enjoyments which should make us independent of the grosser pleasures of the present bodily condition.

Apparently the Corinthians themselves had argued that morality was quite independent of a belief in immortality. For Paul goes on: "Be not deceived: you cannot, however much you think so, you cannot hear such theories without having your moral convictions undermined and your tone lowered." This he conveys to them in a common quotation from a heathen poet-"Evil communications corrupt good manners"; that is to say, false opinions have a natural tendency to produce unsatisfactory and immoral conduct. To keep company with those whose conversation is frivolous or cynical, or charged with dangerous or false views of things, has a natural tendency to lead us to a style of conduct we should not otherwise have fallen into. Men do not always recognise this; they need the warning, "Be not deceived." The beginnings of conduct are so hidden from our observation, our lives are formed by influences so imperceptible, what we hear sinks so insidiously into the mind and mingles so insensibly with our motives, that we can never say what we have heard without moral contamination. No doubt it is possible to hold the most erroneous opinions and yet to keep the life pure; but they are strong and guileless spirits who can preserve a high moral tone while they have lost faith in those truths which mainly nourish the moral nature of the mass of men. And many have found to their surprise and grief that opinions which they fancied they might very well hold and yet live a high and holy life, have somehow sapped their moral defences against temptation and paved the way for shameful falls. We cannot always prevent doubts, even about the most fundamental truths, from entering our minds, but we can always refuse to welcome such doubts, or to be proud of them; we can always be resolved to treat sacred things in a reverent and not in a flippant spirit, and we can always aim at least at an honest and eager seeking for the truth.

3. But the most serious consequence which results if there be no resurrection of the dead, is that in that case Christ is not risen. "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen." For Paul refused to consider the resurrection of Christ as a miracle in the sense of its being exceptional and aside from the usual experience of man. On the contrary, he accepts it as the type to which every man is to be conformed. Precedent in time, exceptional possibly in some of its accidental accompaniments, the resurrection of Christ may be, but nevertheless as truly in the line of human development as birth, and growth, and death: Christ, being man, must submit to the conditions and experience of men in all essentials, in all that characterises man as human. And, therefore, if resurrection be not a normal human experience, Christ has not risen. The time at which resurrection takes place, and the interval elapsing between death and resurrection, Paul makes nothing of. A child may live but three days, but he is not on that account any the less human than if he had lived his threescore years and ten. Similarly the fact of Christ’s resurrection identifies Him with the human race, while the shortness of the interval elapsing between death and resurrection does not separate Him from man, for in point of fact the interval will be less in the case of many.

Both here and elsewhere Paul looks upon Christ as the representative man, the one in whom we can see the ideal of manhood. If any of our own friends should veritably die, and after death should appear to us alive, and should prove his identity by remaining with us for a time, by showing an interest in the very things which had previously occupied his thought, and by taking practical steps to secure the fulfilment of his purposes, a strong probability that we too should live through death would inevitably be impressed on our mind. But when Christ rises from the dead this probability becomes a certainty because He is the type of humanity, the representative person. As Paul here says, "He is the firstfruits of them that sleep." His resurrection is the sample and pledge of ours. When the farmer pulls the first ripe ears of wheat and carries them home, it is not for their own sake he values them, but because they are a specimen and sample of the whole crop; and when God raised Christ from the dead, the glory of the event consisted in its being a pledge and specimen of the triumph of mankind over death. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."

And yet while Paul distinctly holds that resurrection is a normal human experience, he also implies that but for the interposition of Christ that experience might have been lost to men. It is in Christ that men are made alive after and through death. As Adam is the source of physical life that ends in death, so Christ is the source of spiritual life that never dies. "By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." Adam’s severance from God and preference of what was physical, brought man under the powers of the physical world: Christ by perfect adhesion to God, and constant conquest of all physical allurements, won life eternal for Himself and for those who have His Spirit. As a man of genius and wisdom will by his occupation of a throne enlarge men’s ideas of what a king is, and bring many blessings to his subjects, so Christ by living a human life enlarged it to its utmost dimensions, compelling it to express His ideas of life, and winning for those who follow Him entrance into a larger and higher condition. Resurrection is here represented, not as an experience which men would have enjoyed had Christ never appeared on earth, nor as an experience opened to men by God’s sovereign good will, but as an experience in some way brought by Christ within human reach. "By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." That is to say, all who are by physical derivation truly united to Adam, incur the death which by sinning he introduced into human experience; and similarly, all who by spiritual affinity are in Christ enjoy the new life which triumphs over death, and which He won. Adam was not the only man who died, but the firstfruits of a rich harvest; and so, Christ is not alone in resurrection, but is become the firstfruits of them that sleep. According to Paul’s theology, the conduct of a man, the sin of Adam, carried in it disastrous consequences to all connected with him: but equally fruitful in consequences were the human life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The death of Adam was the first stroke of that funeral knell that has ceaselessly sounded through all generations: but the resurrection of Christ was equally the pledge and earnest that the same experience would be enjoyed by all "that are Christ’s."

Paul is carried on from the thought of the resurrection of "them that are Christ’s," to the thought of the consummation of all things which this great event introduces and signalises. This exhibition of the triumph over death is the signal that all other enemies are now defeated. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death"; and this being destroyed, all Christ’s followers being now gathered in and having entered on their eternal condition, the work of Christ so far as this world is concerned is over. Having reunited men to God, His work is done. The provisional government administered by Him having accomplished its work of bringing men into perfect harmony with the Supreme Will, it gives place to the immediate and direct government of God. What is implied in this it is impossible to say. A condition in which sin shall have no place and in which there shall be no need of means of reconciliation, a condition in which the work of Christ shall be no longer needed and in which God shall be all in all, pervading with His presence every soul and as welcome and natural as the air or the sunlight, -that is a condition not easy to be imagined. Neither can we readily imagine what Christ Himself shall be and do when the term of His mediatorial administration is finished and God is all in all.

One idea conspicuous in this brief and pregnant passage is that Christ came to subdue all the enemies of mankind, and that He will continue His work until His purpose is accomplished. He alone has taken a perfectly comprehensive view of the obstacles to human happiness and progress, and He has set Himself to remove these. He alone has penetrated to the root of all human evil and misery, and has given Himself to the task of emancipating men from all evil, of restoring men to their true life, and of abolishing forever the miseries which have so largely characterised man’s history. Slowly, indeed, and unseen, does His work proceed; slowly, because the work is for eternity, and because only gradually can moral and spiritual evils be removed. "It is by no breath, turn of eye, wave of hand, salvation joins issue with death," but by actual and sustained moral conflict, by real sacrifice and persistent choice of good, by long trial and development of individual character, by the slow growth of nations and the interaction of social and religious influences, by the leavening of all that is human with the spirit of Christ, that is, with self-devotement in practical life to the good of men. All this is too great and too real to be other than slow. The tide of moral progress in the world has often seemed to turn. Even now, when the leaven has been working for so long, how doubtful often seems the issue, how concerned even Christian people are about the merest superficialities and how little labouring to put down in Christ’s name the common enemies. Can anyone who looks at things as they are find it easy to believe in the final extinction of evil? Whither tend the prevalent vices, the empty-souled love of pleasure and demand for excitement, the unyielding, brazen-faced selfishness of the principles of business if not of the men who engage in it, the diligent propagation of error, the oppression of the rich and the greed and sensuality that poverty induces? One needs to be reminded that these things are the enemies, not only of good men, but of. Christ, and that by God’s will He is to defeat them. One needs to be reminded also that to see this victory accomplished and to have had no share in it will be the sorest humiliation and the most painful reflection to every generous mind. However slight be our power, let us strike such blow as we can at the common enemies which must be destroyed ere the great consummation is reached.


Verses 35-50

Chapter 24

THE SPIRITUAL BODY

THE proofs of the Resurrection which Paul has adduced are satisfactory. So long as they are clearly before the mind, we find it possible to believe in that great experience which will finally give us possession of the life to come. But after all proof rises doubt irrepressible, owing to the difficulty of understanding the process through which the body passes and the nature of the body that is to be. "Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" Not always in an unbelieving and scoffing spirit; often in mere perplexity and justifiable inquisitiveness, will men ask these questions.

Paul answers both inquiries by referring to analogies in the natural world. Only by death, he says, does seed reach its designed development; and the body or form in which seed rises is very different in appearance from that in which it is sown. These analogies have their place and their use in removing objections and difficulties. They are not intended or supposed to establish the fact of the Resurrection, but only to remove difficulties as to its mode. By analogy you can show that a certain process or result is not impossible, you may even create a presumption in its favour, but you cannot establish it as an actuality. Analogy is a powerful instrument for removing objections, but utterly weak for establishing positive truth. Seed lives again after burial, but it does not follow that our bodies will do so. Seed, when it rots away beneath the soil, gives birth to a better thing than that which was sown, but this is no proof that the same result will follow when our bodies pass through a similar treatment. But if a man says, as Paul here supposes he may, "Such a thing as this resurrection you speak of is an unnatural, unheard of, and impossible thing, the best reply is to point him to some analogous process in nature, in which this apparent impossibility or something very similar is actually brought to pass."

Even outside the circle of Christian thought these analogies in nature have always been felt to remove some of the presumptions against the Resurrection and to make room for listening to evidence in its favour. The transformation of the seed into the plant and the development of the seed to a fuller life through apparent extinction, the transformation of the grub into the brilliant and powerful dragonfly through a process which terminates the life of the grub-these and other natural facts show that one life may be continued through various phases, and that the termination of one form of life does not always moan the termination of all life in a creature. We need not, these analogies tell us, at once conclude that death ends all, for in some visible instances death is only a birth to a higher and freer life. Neither need we point to the dissolution of the natural body and conclude that no more perfect body can be connected with such a process, because in many cases we see a more efficient body disengaged from the original and dissolving body. Thus far the analogies carry us. It is doubtful whether they should be pushed further, although they might seem to indicate that the new body is not to be a new creation, but is to be produced by virtue of what is already in existence. The new body is not to be irrespective of what has gone before, but is to be the natural result of causes already working. What these causes are, or how the spirit is to impress its character on the body, we do not know.

It is not impossible, then, nor even quite improbable, that the death of our present body may set free a new and far more perfectly equipped body. The fact that we cannot conceive the nature of this body need not trouble us. Who without previous observation could imagine what would spring from an acorn or a seed of wheat? To each God gives its own body. We cannot imagine what our future body; subject to no waste or decay, can be; but we need not on that account reject as childish all expectation that such a body shall exist. "All flesh is not the same flesh." The kind of flesh you now wear may be unfit for everlasting life, but there may await you as suitable and congenial a body as your present familiar tenement. Consider the inexhaustible fertility of God, the endless varieties already existing in nature. The bird has a body which fits it for life in the air; the fish lives with comfort in its own element. And the variety already existing does not exhaust God’s resources. We read at present but one chapter in the history of life, and what future chapters are to unfold who can imagine? A fertile and inventive man knows no bounds to his progress; will God stand still? Are we not but at the beginning of His works? May we not reasonably suppose that a truly infinite expansion and development await God’s works? Is it not entirely unreasonable to suppose that what we see and know is the measure of God’s resources?

Paul does not attempt to describe the future body, but contents himself with pointing out one or two of its characteristics by which it is distinguished from the body we now wear. "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." In this body there are decay, humiliation, weakness, a life that is merely temporary; in the body that is to be decay gives place to incorruptibility, humiliation to glory, weakness to power, animal life to spiritual.

The present body is subject to decay. Not only is it easily injured by accident and often rendered permanently useless, but it is so constituted that all activity wastes it; and this waste needs constant repair. That we may constantly seek this repair, we are endowed with strong appetites, which sometimes overbear everything else in us and both defeat their own ends and hinder the growth of the spirit. The organs by which the waste is repaired themselves wear out, so that by no care or nourishment can a man make out to live as long as a tree. But the very decay of this body makes way for one in which there shall be no waste, no need of physical nourishment, and therefore no need of strong and overbearing physical appetites. Instead of impeding the spirit by clamouring to have its wants attended to, it will be the spirit’s instrument. A great part of the temptations of this present life arise from the conditions in which we necessarily exist as dependent for our comfort in great measure on the body. And one can scarcely conceive the feeling of emancipation and superiority which will possess those who have no anxiety about a livelihood, no fear of death, no distraction of appetite.

The present body is for similar reasons characterised by "weakness." We cannot be-where we would, nor do what we would. A man may work his twelve hours, but he must then acknowledge he has a body which needs rest and sleep. Many persons are disqualified by bodily weakness from certain forms of usefulness and enjoyment. Many persons also, though able to do a certain amount of work, do it with labour; their vitality is habitually low, and they never have the full use of their powers, but need continually to be on their guard, and go through life burdened with a lassitude and discomfort more difficult to bear than passing attacks of pain. In contradistinction to this and to every form of weakness, the resurrection body will be full of power, able to accomplish the behests of the will, and fit for all that is required of it.

But the most comprehensive contrast between the two bodies is expressed in the words, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." A natural body is that which is animated by a human life and is fitted for this world. "The first man Adam was made a living soul," or, as we should more naturally say, an animal. He was made with a capacity for living; and because he was to live upon earth, he had a body in which this life or soul was lodged. The natural body is the body we receive at birth, and which is suited for its own requirements of maintaining itself in life in this world into which we are born. The soul, or animal life, of man is higher than that of the other animals, it has richer endowments and capacities, but it is also in, many respects similar. Many men are quite content with the merely animal life which this world upholds and furnishes. They find enough to satisfy them in its pleasures, its work, its affairs, its friendships; and for all these the natural body is sufficient. The thoughtful man cannot indeed but look forward and ask himself what is to become of this body. If he turns to Scripture for light, he will probably be struck with the fact that it sheds no light whatever on the future of the natural body. Those who are in Christ enter into possession of a spiritual body, but there is no hint of any more perfect body being prepared for those who are not in Christ.

The spiritual body which is reserved for spiritual men, is a body in which the upholding life is spiritual. The natural life of man both forms to a human shape, and upholds, the natural body; the spiritual body is similarly maintained by what is spiritual in man. It is the soul, or natural life, of man which gives the body its appetites and maintains it in efficiency; remove this soul, and the body is mere dead matter. In like manner it is the spirit which maintains the spiritual body; and by the spirit is meant that in man which can delight in God and in goodness. The body we now have is miserable and useless or happy and serviceable in proportion to its animal vitality, in proportion to its power to assimilate to itself the nutriment this physical world supplies. The spiritual body will be healthy or sickly in proportion to the spiritual vitality that animates it; that is to say, in proportion to the power of the individual spirit to delight in God and find its life in Him and in what He lives for.

We have already seen that Paul refuses to consider the resurrection of Christ as miraculous in the sense of its being unique or abnormal; on the contrary, he considers resurrection to be an essential step in normal human development, and therefore experienced by Christ. And now he enunciates the great principle or law which governs not only this fact of resurrection, but the whole evolution of God’s works: "first that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual." It is this law which we see ruling the history of creation and the history of man. The spiritual is the culminating point towards which all of the processes of nature tend. The gradual development of what is spiritual-of will, of love, of moral excellence-this, so far as man can see, is the end towards which all nature constantly and steadily is working.

Sometimes, however, it occurs to one to question the law "first that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual." If the present body hinders rather than helps the growth of the spirit, if at last all Christians are to have a spiritual body, why might we not have had this body to begin with? What need of this mysterious process of passing from life to life and from body to body? If it is true that we are here only for a few years and in the future life forever, why should we be here at all? Why might we not at birth have been ushered into our eternal state? The answer is obvious. We are not at once introduced into our eternal condition because we are moral creatures, free to choose for ourselves, and who cannot enter an eternal state save by choice of our own: first that which is natural, first that which is animal, first a life in which we have abundant opportunity to test what appears good and are free to make our choice; then that which is spiritual, because the spiritual can only be a thing of choice, a thing of the will. There is no spiritual life or spiritual birth save by the will. Men can become spiritual only by choosing to be so. Involuntary, compulsory, necessitated, natural spirituality is, so far as man is concerned, a contradiction in terms.

Human nature is a thing of immense possibilities and range. On the one side it is akin to the lower animals, to the physical world and all that is in it, high and low; on the other side it is akin to the highest of all spiritual existences, even to God Himself. At present we are in a world admirably adapted for our probation and discipline, a world in which, in point of fact, every man does attach himself to the lower or to the higher, to the present or to the eternal, to the natural or to the spiritual. And although the results of this may not be apparent in average cases, yet in extreme cases the results of human choice are obtrusively apparent. Let a man give himself unrestrainedly and exclusively to animal life in its grosser forms, and the body itself soon begins to suffer. You can see the process of physical deterioration going on, deepening in misery until death comes. But what follows death? Can one promise himself or another a future body which shall be exempt from the pains which unrepented sin has introduced? Are those who have by their vice committed a slow suicide to be clothed here after in an incorruptible and efficient body? It seems wholly contrary to reason to suppose so. And how can their probation be continued if the very circumstance which makes this life so thorough a probation to us all-the circumstance of our being clothed with a body-is absent? The truth is, there is no subject on which more darkness hangs or on which Scripture preserves so ominous a silence as the future of the body of those who in this life have not chosen God and things spiritual as their life.

On the other hand, if we consider instances in which the spiritual life has been resolutely and unreservedly chosen, we see anticipations here also of the future destiny of those who have so chosen. They may be crushed by diseases as painful and as fatal as the most flagrant of sinners endure, but these diseases frequently have the result only of making the true spiritual life shine more brightly. In extreme cases, you would almost say, the transmutation of the tortured and worn body into a glorified body is begun. The spirit seems dominant; and as you stand by and watch, you begin to feel that death has no relation to the emotions, and hopes, and intercourse you detect in that spirit. These which seem, and are, the very life of the spirit, cannot be thought of as terminated by a merely physical change. They do not spring from, nor do they depend upon, what is physical; and it is reasonable to suppose that they will not be destroyed by it. Looking at Christ Himself and allowing due impression to be made upon us by His concernment about the highest, and best, and most lasting things, by His recognition of God and harmony with Him, by His living in God, and by His superiority to earthly considerations, we cannot but feel it to be most unlikely that such a spirit should be extinguished by bodily death.

This spiritual body we receive through the intervention of Christ. As from the first man we receive animal life, from the second we receive spiritual life. "The first Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam a quickening spirit. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." The image of the first man we have by our natural and physical derivation from him, the image of the second by spiritual derivation; that is to say, by our choosing Christ as our ideal and by our allowing His Spirit to form us. This Spirit is life giving; this Spirit is indeed God, communicating to us a life which is at once holy and eternal.

The mode of Christ’s intervention is more fully described in the words, "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." Everywhere Paul teaches that it was sin which brought death upon man; that man would have broken through the law of death which reigns in the physical world had he not by sin brought himself under the power of things physical. And this poisonous fang was pressed in by the Law. The strength of sin is the Law. It is positive disobedience, the preference of known evil to known good, the violation of law whether written in the conscience or in spoken commandments, which gives sin its moral character. The choice of the evil in presence of the good-it is that which constitutes sin.

The words are no doubt susceptible of another meaning. They could be used by one who wished to say that sin is that which makes death painful, which adds terror of future judgment and gloomy forebodings to the natural pain of death. But it must be owned that this is not so much in keeping with Paul’s usual way of looking at the connection between death and sin.

Christ’s victory over death is thus explained by Godet: "Christ’s victory over death has two aspects, the one relating to Himself, the other concerning men. He first of all conquered sin in relation to Himself by denying to it the right of existence in Him, condemning it to nonexistence in His flesh, similar though it was to our sinful flesh; [Romans 8:3] and thereby He disarmed the Law so far as it concerned Himself. His life being the Law in living realisation, He had it for Him, and not against Him. This twofold personal victory was the foundation of His own resurrection. Thereafter He continued to act that this victory might extend to us. And first He freed us from the burden of condemnation which the Law laid on us, and whereby it was ever interposing between us and communion with God. He recognised in our name the right of God over the sinner; He consented to satisfy it to the utmost in His own person. Whoever appropriates this death as undergone in his room and stead and for himself, sees the door of reconciliation to God open before him, as if he had himself expiated all his sins. The separation established by the Law no longer exists; the Law is disarmed. By that very fact sin also is vanquished. Reconciled to God, the believer receives Christ’s Spirit, who works in him an absolute breach of will with sin and complete devotion to God. The yoke of sin is at an end; the dominion of God is restored in the heart. The two foundations of the reign of death are thus destroyed. Let Christ appear, and this reign will crumble in the dust forever."

It is then with joy and triumph Paul contemplates death. Naturally we shrink from and fear it. We know it only from one side: only from seeing it in the persons of other men, and not from our own experience. And what we see in others is necessarily only the darker side of death, the cessation of bodily life and of all intercourse with the warm and lively interests of the world. It is a condition exciting tears, and moaning, and grief in those that remain in life; and though these tears arise chiefly from our own sense of loss, yet insensibly we think of the condition of the dead as a state to be bewailed. We see the sowing in weakness, in dishonour, in corruption, as Paul says; and we do not see the glory, and strength, and incorruption of the spiritual body. The dead may be in bright regions and be living a keener life than ever; but of this we see nothing: and all we do see is sad, depressing, humiliating.

But to "faith’s foreseeing eye" the other side of death becomes also apparent. The grave becomes the robing room for life eternal. Stripped of "this muddy vesture of decay," we are there to be clothed with a spiritual body. Death is enlisted in the service of Christ’s people; and by destroying flesh and blood, it enables this mortal to put on immortality. The blow which threatens to crush and annihilate all life breaks but the shell and lets the imprisoned spirit free to a larger life. Death is swallowed up in victory, and itself ministers to the final triumph of man. Our instincts tell us that death is critical and has a determining power on our destinies. We cannot evade it; we may depreciate or neglect, but we cannot diminish, its importance. It has its place and its function, and it will operate in each one of us according to what it finds in us, destroying what is merely animal, emancipating what is truly spiritual. We cannot as yet stand on the further side of death, and look back on it, and recognise its kindly work in us; but we can understand Paul’s burst of anticipated triumph, and with him we can forecast the joy of having passed all doubtful struggle and anxious foreboding, and of finally experiencing that all the evils of humanity have been overcome. With a triumph so complete in view, we can also listen to his exhortation, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."

But if we have any fit conception of the magnitude of the triumph, we shall also cherish some worthy idea of the reality of the conflict. Those who have felt the terror of death know that it can be counterbalanced only by something more than a surmise, a hope, a longing, only indeed by a fact as solid as itself. And if to them the resurrection of Christ approves itself as such a fact, and if they can listen to His voice saying, "Because I live, ye shall live also," they do feel themselves armed against the graver terrors of death, and cannot but look forward with some confident hope to a life into which the ills they have here experienced cannot follow them. But at the same time, and in proportion as the reality of the future life quickens hope within them, it must also reveal to them the reality of the conflict through which that life is reached. By no mere idle naming of the name of Christ or resultless faith in Him can men pass from what is natural to what is spiritual. We are summoned to believe in Christ, but for a purpose; and that purpose is that, believing in Him as the revelation of God to us, we may be able to choose Him as our pattern and live His life. It is only what is purely spiritual in ourselves that can put us in possession of a spiritual body. From Christ we can receive what is spiritual; and if our belief in Him prompts us to become like Him, then we may count upon sharing in His destiny.

This is the permanent incentive of the Christian life. This present experience of ours leads to a larger, more satisfying experience. Beyond our horizon there awaits us an endlessly enlarging world. Death, which seems to bound our view, is really but our real birth to a fuller, and eternal, and true life. "Therefore be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." The promptings of conscience do not delude you; your instinctive hopes will not be put to shame; your faith is reasonable; there is a life beyond. And no effort you now put forth will prove vain; no prayer, no earnest desire, no struggle towards what is spiritual, will fail of its effect. All that is spiritual is destined to live; it belongs to the eternal world: and all that you do in the Spirit, all mastery of self and the world and the flesh, all devoted fellowship with God-all is giving you a surer place and a more abundant entrance into the spiritual world, for "your labour is not in vain in the Lord."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-corinthians-15.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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