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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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The belief of a general resurrection of the dead, which will come to pass at the end of the world, and will be followed with an immortality either of happiness or misery, is an article of religion in common to Jews and Christians. It is very expressly taught both in the Old and New Testaments, Psalms 16:10 ; Job 19:25 , &c; Ezekiel 37:1 , &c; Isaiah 26:19 ; John 5:28-29 ; and to these may be added, Wis_3:1 , &c; Wis_4:15 ; 2Ma_7:14 ; 2Ma_7:23 ; 2Ma_7:29 , &c. At the time when our Saviour appeared in Judea, the resurrection from the dead was received as one of the principal articles of the Jewish religion by the whole body of the nation, the Sadducees excepted, Matthew 22:23 ; Luke 20:28 ; Mark 12:18 ; John 11:23-24 ; Acts 23:6 ; Acts 23:8 . Our Saviour arose himself from the dead, to give us, in his own person, a proof, a pledge, and a pattern of our future resurrection. St. Paul, in almost all his epistles, speaks of a general resurrection, refutes those who denied or opposed it, and proves and explains it by several circumstances, Romans 6:5 ; 1 Corinthians 15:12-15 ; Php_3:10-11 ; Hebrews 11:35 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 , &c.

On this subject no point of discussion, of any importance, arises among those who admit the truth of Scripture, except as to the way in which the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is to be understood;—whether a resurrection of the substance of the body be meant, or some minute and indestructible part of it. The latter theory has been adopted for the sake of avoiding certain supposed difficulties. It cannot however fail to strike every impartial reader of the New Testament, that the doctrine of the resurrection is there taught without any nice distinctions. It is always exhibited as a miraculous work; and represents the same body which is laid in the grave as the subject of this change from death to life, by the power of Christ. Thus our Lord was raised in the same body in which he died, and his resurrection is constantly held forth as the model of ours; and the Apostle Paul expressly says, "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body." The only passage of Scripture which appears to favour the notion of the rising of the immortal body from some indestructible germ, is 1 Corinthians 15:35 , &c: "But some men will say, How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain," &c. If, however, it had been the intention of the Apostle, holding this view of the case, to meet objections to the doctrine of the resurrection, grounded upon the difficulties of conceiving how the same body, in the popular sense, could be raised up in substance, we might have expected him to correct this misapprehension by declaring, that this was not the Christian doctrine; but that some small parts of the body only, bearing as little proportion to the whole as the germ of a seed to the plant, would be preserved, and be unfolded into the perfected body at the resurrection. Instead of this, he goes on immediately to remind the objector of the differences which exist between material bodies as they now exist;. between the plant and the bare or naked grain; between one plant and another; between the flesh of men, of beasts, of fishes, and of birds; between celestial and terrestrial bodies; and between the lesser and greater celestial luminaries themselves. Still farther he proceeds to state the difference, not between the germ of the body to be raised, and the body given at the resurrection; but between the body itself, understood popularly, which dies, and the body which shall be raised. "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption," which would not be true of the supposed incorruptible and imperishable germ of this hypothesis; and can only be affirmed of the body itself, considered in substance, and, in its present state, corruptible. Farther: the question put by the objector,—"How are the dead raised up?" does not refer to the modus agendi of the resurrection, or the process or manner in which the thing is to be effected, as the advocates of the germ hypothesis appear to assume. This is manifest from the answer of the Apostle, who goes on immediately to state, not in what manner the resurrection is to be effected, but what shall be the state or condition of the resurrection body; which is no answer at all to the question, if it be taken in that sense.

Thus, in the argument, the Apostle confines himself wholly to the possibility of the resurrection of the body in a refined and glorified state; but omits all reference to the mode in which the thing will be effected, as being out of the line of the objector's questions, and in itself above human thought, and wholly miraculous. It is, however, clear, that when he speaks of the body, as the subject of this wondrous "change," he speaks of it popularly, as the same body in substance, whatever changes in its qualities or figure may be impressed upon it. Great general changes it will experience, as from corruption to incorruption, from mortality to immortality; great changes of a particular kind will also take place, as its being freed from deformities and defects, and the accidental varieties produced by climate, aliments, labour, and hereditary diseases. It is also laid down by our Lord, that "in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but be like to the angels of God;" and this also implies a certain change of structure; and we may gather from the declaration of the Apostle, that though "the stomach," is now adapted "to meats, and meats to the stomach," yet God will "destroy both it and them;" that the animal appetite for food will be removed, and the organ now adapted to that appetite will have no place in the renewed frame. But great as these changes are, the human form will be retained in its perfection, after the model of our Lord's "glorious body," and the substance of the matter of which it is composed will not thereby be affected. That the same body which was laid in the grave shall arise out of it, is the manifest doctrine of the Scriptures. The notion of an incorruptible germ, or that of an original and unchangeable stamen, out of which a new and glorious body, at the resurrection, is to spring, appears to have been borrowed from the speculations of some of the Jewish rabbins. But if by this hypothesis it was designed to remove the difficulty of conceiving how the scattered parts of one body could be preserved from becoming integral parts of other bodies, it supposes that the constant care of Providence is exerted to maintain the incorruptibility of those individual germs, or stamina, so as to prevent their assimilation with each other. Now, if they have this by original quality, then the same quality may just as easily be supposed to appertain to every particle which composes a human body; so that, though it be used for food, it shall not be capable of assimilation, in any circumstances, with another human body. But if these germs, or stamina, have not this quality by their original nature, they can only be prevented from assimilating with each other by that operation of God which is present to all his works, and which must always be directed to secure the execution of his own ultimate designs. If this view be adopted, then, if the resort must at last be to the superintendence of a Being of infinite power and wisdom, there is no greater difficulty in supposing that his care to secure this object may extend to a million as easily as to a hundred particles, of matter. This is, in fact, the true and rational answer to the objection that the same piece of matter may happen to be a part of two or more bodies, as in the instances of men feeding upon animals which have fed upon men, and of men feeding upon one another. The question here is one which simply respects the frustrating a final purpose of the Almighty by an operation of nature. To suppose that he cannot prevent this, is to deny his power; to suppose him inattentive to it, is to suppose him indifferent to his own designs; and to assume that he employs care to prevent it, is to assume nothing greater, nothing in fact so great, as many instances of control, which are always occurring; as, for instance, the regulation of the proportion of the sexes in human births, which cannot be attributed to chance, but must either be referred to superintendence, or to some original law. Another objection to the resurrection of the body has been drawn from the changes of its substance during life; the answer to which is, that, allowing a frequent and total change of the substance of the body (which, however, is but an hypothesis) to take place, it affects not the doctrine of Scripture, which is, that the body which is laid in the grave shall be raised up. But then, we are told, that if our bodies have in fact undergone successive changes during life, the bodies in which we have sinned or performed rewardable actions may not be, in many instances, the same bodies as those which will be actually rewarded or punished. We answer, that rewards and punishments have their relation to the body, not so much as it is the subject but as it is the instrument of reward and punishment. It is the soul only which perceives pain or pleasure, which suffers or enjoys, and is, therefore, the only rewardable subject. Were we, therefore, to admit such corporeal mutations as are assumed in this objection, they affect not the case of our accountability. The personal identity or sameness of a rational being, as Mr. Locke has observed, consists in self-consciousness: "By this every one is to himself what he calls self, without considering whether that self be continued in the same or divers substances. It was by the same self which reflects on an action done many years ago, that the action was performed." If there were indeed any weight in this objection, it would affect the proceedings of human criminal courts in all cases of offences committed at some distance of time; but it contradicts the common sense, because it contradicts the common consciousness and experience, of mankind.

Our Lord has assured us, that "the hour is coming in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." Then we shall "all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump," and "the dead shall be raised incorruptible." It is probable that the bodies of the righteous and the wicked, though each shall in some respects be the same as before, will each be in other respects not the same, but undergo some change conformable to the character of the individual, and suited to his future state of existence; yet both, as the passage just quoted clearly teaches, are then rendered indestructible. Respecting the good it is said, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we shall appear with him in glory," "we shall be like him; our body shall be fashioned like his glorious body;" yet, notwithstanding this, "it doth not yet fully appear what we shall be," Colossians 3:4 ; 1 John 3:2 ; Php_3:21 . This has a very obvious reason. Our present manner of knowing depends upon our present constitution, and we know not the exact relation which subsists between this constitution and the manner of being in a future world; we derive our ideas through the medium of the senses; the senses are necessarily conversant with terrestrial objects only; our language is suited to the communication of present ideas; and thus it follows that the objects of the future world may in some respects (whether few or many we cannot say) differ so extremely from terrestrial objects, that language cannot communicate to us any such ideas as would render those matters comprehensible. But language may suggest striking and pleasing analogies; and with such we are presented by the holy Apostle: "All flesh," says he, "is not the same flesh: but there is one flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds;" and yet all these are fashioned out of the same kind of substance, mere inert matter, till God gives it life and activity. It is sown an animal body; a body which previously existed with all the organs, faculties, and propensities, requisite to procure, receive, and appropriate nutriment, as well as to perpetuate the species; but it shall be raised a spiritual body, refined from the dregs of matter, freed from the organs and senses required only in its former state, and probably possessing the remaining senses in greater perfection, together with new and more exquisite faculties, fitted for the exalted state of existence and enjoyment to which it is now rising. In the present state the organs and senses appointed to transmit the impressions of objects to the mind, have a manifest relation to the respective objects: the eye and seeing, for example, to light; the ear and hearing, to sound. In the refined and glorious state of existence to which good men are tending, where the objects which solicit attention will be infinitely more numerous, interesting, and delightful, may not the new organs, faculties, and senses, be proportionably refined, acute, susceptible, or penetrating? Human industry and invention have placed us, in a manner, in new worlds; what, then, may not a spiritual body, with sharpened faculties, and the grandest possible objects of contemplation, effect in the celestial regions to which Christians are invited? There the senses will no longer degrade the affections, the imagination no longer corrupt the heart; the magnificent scenery thrown open to view will animate the attention, give a glow and vigour to the sentiments; that roused attention will never tire; those glowing sentiments will never cloy; but the man, now constituted of an indestructible body, as well as of an immortal soul, may visit in eternal succession the streets of the celestial city, may "drink of the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb;" and dwell for ever in those abodes of harmony and peace, which, though "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the imagination of man to conceive," we are assured "God hath prepared for them that love him,"

1 Corinthians 2:9 .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Resurrection'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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