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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ 1-corinthians-15.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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The whole chapter may be reviewed as An Easter Bible Reading on 1 Corinthians 15:0.
I. A piece of history.
II. A piece of revelation.
III. A piece of exhortation.
1. History.—I Keen-witted Corinthians fond of speculation. Too “wise” (2 Corinthians 11:19, etc.) to take any doctrine simply on trust, even from most thoroughly accredited teacher. They must understand the Resurrection. They must get it into a form that could be understood. If that not the original form, or “orthodox,” so much the worse for the original. “Yes; we understand ‘the Resurrection.’ There is no mystery about it. In fact, in the only true sense, it is ‘past already’ (probably, as 2 Timothy 2:18). Merely a rhetorical expression for the experience of the New Birth. We all have had our Resurrection—all the Resurrection we ever shall have. There is in the literal, physical sense no resurrection of the dead.”
2. This the exaggeration of a glorious truth. The new, eternal life did begin at “conversion.” That was the event, the date, of all others in our history; the real dividing-line was there, between Old and New, between Death and Life. There is a dividing-line at death and another at the resurrection. But these are only between newer and newer stages of the new life. In death the body drops away; the full Life, in which the parting of the spiritual nature from its old companion of many years is a mere momentary incident, goes on to become fuller and larger. At the resurrection it will go on from fuller to fullest. But we did rise out of Death into Life at conversion. Corinthians so far held truth, but exaggerated it.
3. They did not do justice to the place of the body in the Man. It is as essentially part of him as the spirit or the soul. Man is not soul only, any more than he is body only. He is body, soul, spirit; these three are one man. By the Redeemer’s grace the body has its future. He died for the whole manhood; the body therefore is to have its redemption and after-life.
4. “Cannot have!” these said; “cannot be! How are the dead—the Dead!—the Dead! Look at them; think of them after a month’s interment! The DEAD! don’t you see them?—raised up? With what (sort of a) body do these dead come (forth)?” “Well,” replies Paul, “you must not say ‘Cannot be.’ It has been.” [So neither has a modern scientist or unbeliever any right to sweep away miracle with a preliminary and all-excluding flourish of denials. Have miracles been? It is not speculation or theory, but evidence and history, which come first in the discussion.] “Deny all resurrection of the dead, and you fight against History. History will win; and, meanwhile, remember that if there cannot be a resurrection of the body, then your Lord lies still in death in Joseph’s grave—or at least is only so alive as any other ordinary departed friend or teacher is. No Resurrection? Then there is no Risen Lord!”
5. Christianity is historical. Its doctrines are rooted in facts of history. The Incarnation is bound up with—stands or falls with—the historical fact that Jesus Christ was born by the Holy Ghost of a pure Virgin. If Jesus Christ did not actually, historically die on a certain day [in probably April, A.D. 30] there has been no Atonement. If He did so die, but did not actually rise again on the following Sunday morning, and a few weeks after return to heaven and take His place in that world once more, then the death was nothing to the purpose of an Atonement, and there is no living, incarnate Representative of humanity to be its Intercessor with God. If assailants can do anything, they can disprove “facts” alleged, or show the “evidence” for them valueless. If the facts are gone, or not verifiable and as good as gone, Christianity is really as good as gone—Salvation is gone. Prove that the Resurrection of Christ is not history,—that is their task; then His death is vain, “your faith vain” too.
6. But the history has all the verification possible—not to speak of the prophetic intimations of it—and that very strong. “The eleven saw Him. Peter saw Him. I saw Him. ‘Hallucination? Enthusiasm?’ Five hundred saw Him at once. A crowd does not all see visions, nor do all see the same visions. All that is subjective is eliminated by the multiplication of the witnesses. The larger half, more than two hundred and fifty at least, are alive; you can examine them. ‘Fraud?’ You do not get five hundred, or two hundred and fifty, conspirators all to keep the secret of a fraud, or not for long.” If any fact of ancient history can be established by sober testimony, this can. Christ’s resurrection is a Piece of History, the sure historical foundation of our faith and hope. “Now is Christ risen from the dead! And become the firstfruits of them that slept.” But this last truth, further, is—
II. A piece of revelation.—
1. Of this, at present, we can only say we believe it. The fact is mere revelation; unascertainable by us beforehand; and now that it is asserted, we can barely do more than tell what the words mean. We can hardly conceive what the fact may prove to be in the historical working out and fulfilment. There is to be a resurrection of All (see Critical Notes); an ordered, orderly gathering of all Christ’s then living and raised ones. Christ has already, as the firstfruits of the harvest for the heavenly garner, led the way. “At His Coming.” “The End.”
2. The relations, even of time, between these revealed facts of the future are involved in great obscurity. The interpretation of what is here said in connection with “the End” is full of mystery. But the symbolic language gives an impressive picture. We see heaven’s Crown Prince, the Colleague in the Father’s throne, to Whom has been apportioned the government of our redeemed race, and the task of bringing this rebel world into subjection by the power of His cross, or by the arm of His might. There He stands. His task is finished. He stands Victor over the last Enemy to be destroyed; His foot is upon Death! His fellow-conquerors stand with Him in triumphant array, in their risen bodies, fashioned like His. Then (may we say it?) He lowers His sword, and bends His head, and bows His knee, and gives back to the Father the kingdom—the Mediator’s kingdom—which was committed to Him long ago, in the morning of His own resurrection (Psalms 2:0; Romans 14:9, etc.). What a history that of redemption has been! What a history that of His kingdom! And that is “the end” of it!
3. But those bodies of His fellow-conquerors? “How are the Dead raised? How raised? How raised? Where do they get a body? [For they cannot be men without a body; a mere unclothed human spirit is not a man.] What kind of body have they found given them?” How? Revelation does not help us much. But at least
(1) “Death is per se no barrier. In nature the seed which yourselves sow must die if it is to live again. Death is, for it, the way to life. ‘God gives it a body;’ for the present that is the best answer. And so God is pledged to clothe the immaterial in man.”
(2) “With what kind of body? Do not know; and what matter? Even now, amongst these material, fleshly enwrappings of the Life-principle, animal, aviar, piscine, there is infinite variety, suggesting infinite possibilities of new kinds. There may easily be another kind of a body for a risen man. These are all “flesh,” in their infinite varieties, as his may be in its kind; and all are real bodies. All glory, again, is glory, but with differences; sun, moon, star as compared with star, varying in kind as well as degree, of glory. That we cannot conceive of so new, so novel, a condition and glory of the body does not carry us very far in the direction of disbelief, nor hinder faith very much. We do not understand, we can hardly conceive of, the real, material, angelic “bodies celestial.” If there are Jovians, or Saturnians, or Mercurials in yonder planets, what are Jovian, Saturnian, Martial “celestial bodies” like? As was said (1 Corinthians 2:14), between the “natural” and the “spiritual” is a great gulf, in fact and knowledge. The “natural” body can give very scanty suggestion as to the “spiritual” body. This will be “my own” (kind of) “body,” and “God gives it me”; a body which makes me—the “spiritual man” who used to wear a “natural” body—even in body a “spiritual” man complete, redeemed in body, soul, spirit. My life repeats the old order of history: first the “natural” Adam, the earth-born; next the “spiritual,” life-giving Adam, the Lord, heaven-born. “Flesh and blood inherit the kingdom of God?” Of course not. If that be your difficulty, we are agreed. I also say “Flesh and blood cannot.” “This corruptible?” No, no! Incorruption. “This mortal?” No! Immortality. “This weakness and frailty and liability to suffering?” Away with the thought! Thank God, No! We shall have done with these. I do not know much, but I know, “raised in power,” in all the light and strength and glory of an eternal Life. I do not know how; it has not been told me how. All is Revelation; even that does not go far.
III. Exhortation.—Does the belief in the resurrection matter so much? Cannot a man be “steadfast, unmovable,” and the rest, without it? The holding of the doctrine involves:
1. Without it the man’s creed is no longer Christian. And the connection between creed and life is close. In the discussion in this chapter it is assumed that the question is not merely one of the Resurrection and future of the Body, but of the future and immortality of the Man. And if in the man’s creed Immortality be not found, it will affect his life, sooner or later, radically. At all events, to disbelieve the doctrine is to disbelieve the resurrection of Christ, with all the serious issues connected therewith. “And why do you baptize for the dead?”
2. “Then are we of all men the most miserable!” Die like the brutes, and yet be doomed to live without their insouciance, their freedom from responsibility and from fear of the future, from the sting of conscience and the sense and shame of failure? Sacrifice the pleasure—such as it is—of the men to whom this life is all, and afterwards find that we have no more to hope for than they? “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” Why risk everything—anything at all—for Christ? Why “fight with beasts at Ephesus,” or “die daily,” if it be only “after the manner of men”—with ordinary men’s hopes and no more?
3. “Do not listen to such things, lest you come to think such things!” “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” We shall suffer hurt in even mental contact with such teaching.
4. “Do not listen; labour; abound in the work.” Work is the best antidote to [sinful desires and to] vain speculations. An idle life leaves open the door to temptation, to unbelief, or to a sensuous or sensual life—perhaps to both. A Christian may be too busy to doubt; never too busy to enjoy and love and live.
5. “You are in the Lord; your hope is that of men ‘in Him’ (1 Corinthians 15:19); your activities are His, wrought through you. Can His life and work be in vain, ending unworthily, or in a complete failure?” If He had no resurrection, His own work was in vain; if you have none, yours will be. But stand fast in your faith in His resurrection and your own. (Many of these points, and some omitted ones, fully stated in Separate Homilies.) “Take the objective facts away from Christianity,” you lose the “definiteness and outward reality,” the more “strong and definite service.” You get “endless and useless introspection upon the mysteries of our nature, the rehearsal of which comes to be regarded as the fulfilment of righteousness,”—“a very tiresome thing, and so dropped, or exchanged for … Atheism.” (See Munger, Freedom of Faith, p. 195.)
1. The main teaching of chapter is almost pure dogma. It is for the most part matter of simple revelation and belief.
2. The earliest extant written account of the appearances of the Risen Lord. The earliest Gospel is not so early as this. This account written not more than thirty years after the asserted Resurrection of Christ. [Important in its bearing upon 1 Corinthians 15:6.]
1 Corinthians 15:1. I declare.—With some shade of reproach that they required it. See the same phrase, 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 8:1; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Peter 1:16.
1. Note, Christ’s resurrection is an integral part of “the Gospel”; which is here both the historical facts, and the good news founded upon, rooted in, the facts. (Cf. Galatians 1:6-9.)
2. Note the cumulative “also, also, also.” Q.d. “You have as great a stake in the matter of its falsehood or truth as I have. True, I preached it; but so did you accept it, and it is your basis of life.”
3. Note “which … in which … by (means of) which.” (Cf. “we stand” in Romans 5:2; Romans 11:20.)
1 Corinthians 15:2.—Note the punctuation and supplied words of the Ye are (being) saved.—Continuously; present part., as usual. In what word.—Literally; so then “the word of the Cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18) includes much more than merely the Crucifixion; there would be no Atonement without a Resurrection. In vain Choose between
(1) margin, and
(2) “so as to end after all in no saving result” (Galatians 3:4; Galatians 4:11).
(1) would imply a baseless belief;
(2) a fruitless belief. (For the thought of
(2) Hebrews 2:11.) Evans prefers “rashly, without due reflection.”
1 Corinthians 15:3. I received, … I delivered.… Ye received (1 Corinthians 15:1).—Three first links in tradition. A typical preacher:
(1) A witness; of
(2) what he heard at first-hand and himself had seen;
(3) not creator of message; it is objective, not subjective. First of all.—Not
(1) in order of time in the history of his preaching at Corinth, nor
(2) in the order of doctrine in their Christian instruction, but
(3) as of first-rate importance. Died … buried … rose.—These are all included in the “word of The Cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18). For our sins.—Evidently, then, the vicarious character of the death of Christ must not be made to rest, in (say) 2 Corinthians 5:15, upon the mere lexical force of the preposition; it is abundantly to be gathered from the sense of (say) John 11:50. See other prepositions in Romans 4:25; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18. According to the Scriptures.—E.g. Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 53:8; (Daniel 9:26); Psalms 22:0.; Zechariah 12:10; the Paschal Lamb. See how authoritatively the Risen Lord put His disciples into this Christian way of reading the Old Testament (Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:44-46). [Everything He did and said on that first Christian “Sunday” was carefully chosen and significant—typical—carrying a large principle with it.] So before His death (Luke 22:37). Peter, at Pentecost, at once began using this Christian method of exposition; N.B., at Pentecost, another day which carried ruling precedents with it (Acts 2:25-31). [Peter kept to this principle (1 Peter 1:11; 1 Peter 2:24). As to New Testament in Old Testament, cf. also Acts 8:35; Acts 13:33-35; Acts 17:3; Acts 26:22-23; John 2:22; John 20:9.] “These words carry us back to a time when the events of Christianity required not only to be illustrated or confirmed, but to be justified by reference to Judaism” (Stanley).
1 Corinthians 15:4. Buried.—Not an unimportant link in the chain of Christian evidences. Looks, moreover, like a touch of the oral detail with which the story was by the first preachers communicated. Emphasised also in each of the four Gospels. Yet did not need the emphatic clenching “According to the Scriptures.” “Earth sacred above all planets as the burial-place of the Redeemer” (Beecher). Was raised.—Not “rose”: cf. Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 55:3 (Hosea 6:2); Psalms 16:10.
1 Corinthians 15:5. Cephas.—The first man, to see the Risen Christ. A very important coincidence with apparently casual words in Mark 16:7 (and Luke 24:34, which most probably has this force). Cephas too [“Cephas,” as they said at Corinth] was an authority at Corinth; an ad homines touch, this. Twelve.—Already “officially” equivalent to “the Apostolic college”; in fact ten (Luke, as above), and then eleven (John 20:26).
1 Corinthians 15:6. Five hundred … at once.—Probably in Matthew 28:16 (perhaps confirmed by John 21:1). The one hundred and twenty of Acts 1:0 were only those in Jerusalem. Paul’s word, so obviously open to challenge, and, if false or mistaken, to refutation, is authority for this fact. [Not to insist upon his inspiration.] The omission of this in the Gospels agrees with John 20:30. Fallen asleep.—(1 Corinthians 15:18; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Corinthians 11:30.) After the death of Christ, dying is never in the New Testament called “death,” in connection with Christians. Was the phrase born of the words of Christ, Matthew 9:24? “The Church never dies or thinks of death, though she buries her dead” (Pope). Remain.—John 21:22-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15.
1 Corinthians 15:7. James.—Unrecorded. The James of Acts 15:0, and of the Epistle. Tradition (in “Gospel of the Hebrews”) that (from Matthew 26:29) James (unbelieving in John 7:5) had vowed neither to eat, from the Last Supper onward, until he had seen the Risen Lord. Jesus appeared to Him. “Bring a table and bread. My brother, eat thy bread because the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” See the prominence of Cephas and James in Galatians 1:0,
2. All the apostles.—Choose between John 20:26; Matthew 28:16; and Acts 1:4. [Evans would emphasise “apostles” rather than “all.”]
1 Corinthians 15:8. Due time.—Rather lay stress on the physical inferiority of the abortive-born than upon the comparative time of birth. [Paul was born long after time, not before time.] Stanley gives Suet., Octavius, xxxv. 2, as authority for magistrates appointed irregularly being called abortivi. To me.—A necessary credential to put him on equality with Cephas and the rest. See 1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 9:17 (where Ananias is presumably reporting what he has learned from Christ Himself), Acts 26:16 (read in connection with Galatians 1:16, which must not be forced into mechanically restricted coincidence with this “appearance” alone). Last of (them) all.
1 Corinthians 15:9.—“I am nothing;” 1 Corinthians 15:10, “I am greater than any of them.” Cf. another Pharisee (Luke 18:10).
1 Corinthians 15:10. In vain.—Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:1. [Like the stony ground, or thorny-ground, hearers.] Cf. also Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:12-16.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul and the Gospel.
I. Paul himself.—
1. The evangelist.—Note this:
(1) He is preaching the Gospel whilst he is teaching such many-sided facts as these of our paragraph, and whilst rising to such an exalted strain of prophecy as follows in the chapter. He is “the Prophet Paul.” He claims in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 to speak “in the word of the Lord,” like a prophet of the old dispensation (cf., e.g., 1 Kings 20:35-36). In this very chapter he soon leaves behind him Old Testament Scripture and Contemporary Testimony, and soars away to a height and into a glory of Revelation as to the future, where our eye can scarcely see anything distinctly for very brightness, and where we hear his words indeed, but can hardly interpret some of them. Yet he never ceases to be practical. The lark at her highest flight, and lost in a blaze of glory where her song is indistinct for very distance, belongs to earth. Paul’s sudden, swift return to theology in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57, and to the practical, prosaic round of daily duty and service in 1 Corinthians 15:58, is very like her sudden drop to her nest, and to her motherly duty to her young ones, when her song is done. None of these exalted themes are revealed merely for the sake of giving, even accurate, information about the future. What is revealed is for the sake of its bearing upon practical life; so much only is revealed as may serve this purpose, [(a) “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me” (John 21:22). (b) “Are there few that be saved?” “Enter ye in at the strait gate,” i.e. “Few or many, see that you make one” (Luke 13:23). (c) “Lord, who did sin, this man or his parents?… We must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day” (John 9:2; John 9:4). (d) These may illustrate a Bible reading on 2 Timothy 2:23.]
(2) All this sheds useful light on his words in 1 Corinthians 2:2 : “Christ, and Him crucified,” is no narrow theme. “The Cross” touches everything in the history of a fallen, redeemed race. But “the Cross” here includes the Resurrection. “So we preached,” when he came to Corinth. No scorn should be poured on the Evangelical preachers of the Georgian Revival that with them it was all “the Cross,” “the blood.” These themes were greatly prominent; the men were physicians for souls, who had found by observation and comparison of many thousands of “cases,” of all types, ages, ranks, what was the mischief of the human heart, and, by as wide experiment, what form of presentation of the truth, and what particular detail of the whole round of Truth, best cured their “sick.” Certainly results justified them. But they did not, in point of fact, confine themselves so literally to the Cross. They quite understood, “saved by His life” (Romans 5:10), and preached the Resurrection and the high-priestly Intercession as the necessary complements of Calvary. A “Gospel” preacher will roam far and wide in the field of revealed knowledge; he will explore in many directions, but he will always start from the Cross; he will account himself to have lost his bearings when he can no longer see it; he will account himself “lost” when he has wandered so far that the Cross has sunk beneath his mental horizon; he will keep open, however far afield, his communications with this Sacred Base of operations. Every theme will be traced up to, and treated as it is related to, the Cross and its atonement; subject to that condition, every theme of Revelation and its suggestions is open to him. Such themes as the Resurrection of the Lord, of the saints, of the sinner; the victory of the Lord over all opposing evil; the mysterious “End”;—so dealt with, these are all part of “the Gospel.” His prime qualification is that he is—
2. Paul the witness.—
(1) To have seen Christ Jesus as the Risen Lord was a necessary credential of apostleship, in the narrowest sense of that title. It made Paul, perhaps, rather than Matthias (Acts 1:26), the twelfth of these patriarchs of the new Israel. [The Benjamite was the youngest-born, the Benjamin, amongst them.] Peter may have been too forward [Pentecost had not yet given the fulness of the Spirit] in choosing the man, but at least he was right as to the requisite credential: “One must be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection.” The Resurrection gives an adequate account of the origin of the Christian Church; thus actually to have seen Christ gives an adequate account of the transformation of Saul into Paul; taking all the circumstances of the case into the reckoning, nothing else does. To see the glorious Form, and to hear the voice of Jesus of Nazareth speaking as from heaven to him, years after He had been accounted dead, buried, and finally disposed of, like any other dead man,—this was a fact which at one blow brought down in ruins all the creed and all the personal righteousness of Saul of Tarsus. “These Nazarenes, then, whom I have been imprisoning because they said that the Crucified One was living again, and even bringing to the death when I could not get them to apostatise,—they were right; I have been wrong. My orthodox Judaism has no room for this fact; I must needs recast it. And who is He Whom I have despised, hated, calling Him a ‘blasphemer,’ who deserved to be crucified? I have been mistaken. I have been the blasphemer. I am the sinner—chief of sinners!” The one fact revolutionised Paul’s life. [No man’s life is ever the same, he cannot himself be again the same, when once he has intelligently, distinctly, come face to face with the Risen Christ and His claims. The meeting may lead to salvation; it may intensify rebellion: but life can never after be the same.] He also would have been the most earnest in saying that his capacity to be a witness to the Resurrection was no mere eyewitness capacity for testifying to a bare historical fact, however important and however far-reaching in its consequences. He knows of a belief in and a confession of a Risen Christ which only coexists with, which indeed is, salvation (Romans 10:9-10). The aim of his personal life is to have a knowledge, which is a sharing, of the resurrection of his Lord (Philippians 3:10-11). The Christian apologist of to-day, rightly enough, only appeals to the eyewitnesses of the historic fact; but Paul would have made the appeal of his “testimony” to lie here,—not that, so many years ago, God revealed His (risen) Son to him—a fact to grow more and more dim, perhaps, as it receded into the perspective of the past, and to become every year more and more a memory, open to challenge and to critical doubt as to its validity,—but that God, then and ever after, “revealed His (risen) Son in him” (Galatians 1:16); the historical fact became an experienced one; the objective having a subjective which was its counterpart, and its continuously new verification.
(2) Still, here Paul is the historic witness, “delivering what” he has “first received.” For apologetic or evidential purposes, the “simpler” the witness, so he be manifestly honest, the stronger the evidence he gives. The man who has evidently no arrière pensée, who in all transparent directness does nothing but repeat what he knows at first-hand, is the best purveyor of facts for a verdict. Paul, like his brother apostles, was “put in trust with the Gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4); they were simply “stewards of the mysteries,” not creators or proprietors (1 Corinthians 4:1); it is “a deposit” (2 Timothy 1:14); as with every true preacher, there is with him no “feigning these things out of his own mind.” [He had, moreover, “received” it just as the Corinthians had received it in their turn from him. In them it had been a “believing” which made them, who were once “without strength,” to “stand,” and had “saved” them.] The old argument is of perpetual force, that the very inartificiality of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, the very “discrepancies” which testify to independence and to absence of collusive design, are guarantees of the truthfulness of the witnesses, and so inferentially to the truth of their story. [So, again, the only effective preacher of the Gospel is one who “delivers what” he has “received.” Hence his knowledge of the facts and of the dogmas depending upon them, here passes over into his personal character. He is—].
3. Paul the sinner saved.—
(1) How diverse his tone: in 1 Corinthians 15:9 he labours, he accumulates language of depreciation, to make out that he is nothing before God and in comparison with the rest of the Apostolic company; in 1 Corinthians 15:10 he boldly claims equality with the best of men, and to be more than they all. “Is that honest and consistent with Christian sincerity? Particularly, is it true when he says ‘least of all’ [and ‘chief of sinners’]? (1 Timothy 1:15). Would you not rather call him chief of apostles, chief of saints?” Natural questions. Yet all he says is true. [2 Corinthians 2:17 should apply most strictly to a man’s statement of his Christian experience, particularly to his relation of his ante-conversion experience. There is no use, and no honour done to God, in forgetting, or undervaluing, or denying, the good wrought in a man by the Spirit of God, even before by regeneration he became definitely a Christian.] For “I persecuted the Church of God.” (a) Sin once committed, not even God can undo it. Pardon of the past cannot alter the past. It may be forgiven, but it abides a fact. Paul did stand by, “consenting,” when Stephen was stoned, as certainly as he did study in the school of Gamaliel. The veil of Divine mercy may “cover” the sin, but the thing is there. Sins fade from our memory, or the remembrance may lose its poignancy by time [it evidently did not with Paul]; God’s anger on account of them is turned away, from the moment that the sinner trusts in Christ; from that moment there is no hell to fear on their account: but they are there. The prodigal sits forgiven and happy at his father’s table, but the riot of a far country is a fact and the inheritance is wasted. The bankrupt gets his order of discharge, but his debts are facts nevertheless. And he owes them still. Legally they no longer concern him; he is “justified” from them. He may prosper, and his new gains are safe; but he is in debt still. The law and the favour of his creditors make him safe; but an honest man feels that morally and in fact he is a debtor still. So Paul, the chief apostle, is God’s debtor still. In the moment fixed precisely for his readers in Philippians 3:7, a line was graciously drawn across the record of his life; nothing beyond it would again come up to his condemnation. But the line was drawn by grace, by mere favour for the sake of Another. The persecutor might and did build high in holy attainment, but the foundation was an act of favour, grace, and only grace. “By the grace of God I am,” etc., is as continuously true of his standing before God as of his abundant and fruitful life-activity. In himself and his own status, this chief apostle is “not meet to be called an apostle, because,” etc. The guilt of his persecution is not now upon him; he is being sanctified from his love of sin; it has no dominion over him, we may well believe; he is pardoned, rejoicing, God-honoured, holy. But there is the fact, unalterable to all eternity,—“I persecuted.” And the remembrance of all this will make such words as 1 Corinthians 15:9 always natural and always true. (b) How does that father [e.g. John Tregenoweth: His Mark, M. G. Pearse] in after-years look upon that child whom years ago he injured or blinded in the utter ignorance of deep intoxication? How does that man look upon his friend, when he finds that in an hour of passion, though in perfect good faith [the good faith of a madman], he said and did what proves to have been utterly false and to have done a lifelong wrong to his friend, at least with some who have not come, or will not, to know his friend as he now knows him? How does he feel, who in the dark has struck his very brother, supposing the while that he was resisting an enemy? With all the energy of a grand native capacity and all the force of intense conviction, Paul had flung himself against [“fallen upon” (Matthew 21:44)] his Brother, his Best Friend, the Redeemer of his soul, his Divine Messiah. True he “did it ignorantly,” but he did it. Oh, the horror of it! Oh, the shame of it! Oh, the wrong, the sin, of it! “Chief of sinners!” “Least of the apostles! Not worthy to be called an apostle!” The words are natural, honest, true. All this, then, being remembered, he is free to say—
(2) “More than they all.” But “by the grace of God.” [Some poor, wretched, lost souls on earth have to say, and in hell will have to say eternally, “In spite of the grace of God, I am what I am!” Men may “receive the grace of God in vain,” making it to end in no such saving result as it was designed to accomplish. There are some lives of which one has to say, reversing Romans 5:20, “Where grace abounded, sin did much more abound.” In many senses true, “What maketh heaven, that maketh hell.” Paul is a “good steward of the grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).] He is not here thinking only or principally of his standing with God, but of himself as measured by what he has been able to accomplish for his Master’s work. Not merely “by the favour of God”; “grace” seldom means so little as that in the New Testament. It is rather the actual power which has quickened and enlightened the mind, and energised the will, and aroused the devotion of the heart; a power and force which, when pursued to its last analysis, is revealed as the indwelling, personal Spirit of God. [John Hunt, one of the early missionaries to the Fiji islands, desiring to impress this practical interchangeableness of the thoughts, “grace” and “Holy Spirit,” in a preliminary and confessedly tentative rendering of some of the Epistles into the Bau dialect, several times deliberately translated “grace” by “Holy Spirit” (told to H. J. F. by Hunt’s colleague, R. B. Lyth).]
(3) The meaning and practical value of such self-assertion as is here found in Paul’s letters, is dealt with in many other places of these Epistles, particularly chap. 9 and 2 Corinthians 10:0 sqq. It is never the gratuitous parading of himself which is natural to the vain man, who cannot be happy unless he is the centre of attention; nor the masterful self-assertion of the consciously strong man. It is always forced upon him by others (2 Corinthians 12:11, “Ye have compelled me”); it is forced out from him by others. It is here a question of safeguarding and vindicating an Apostolic status and consequent authority, whose primary purpose and main worth were the service of the Churches and the “edification” of the Corinthians themselves (2 Corinthians 10:8). And, moreover, with the more reason, that he found his action in declining the maintenance by the Church which other teachers accepted, was misconstrued into a confession of conscious inferiority of status. A Christian man cannot be too utterly humble as before God; his sense of abundant and entire indebtedness to the grace of God for all he is, and for all he has been able to accomplish, cannot be kept too keen. After every new success [and at every new “failure”] he will do wisely to present himself before God, with fullest acknowledgment that in it all he is only the organon of the Spirit of God. [There are two moments when Self is very near and when self-centering thought is a very real peril to the spiritual life; the moment of “more abundant” success, and the moment of more abundant failure.] Comparison with his fellow-workers is a dangerous occupation of thought for any man, and, as here, needs instantly and constantly guarding with the fullest acknowledgment, “Yet not I, but … God.” [Cf. another, “Yet not I, but,” etc. (Galatians 2:20), where the thought is substantially unaffected by the important various reading.] It will be the rarest occupation of his meditation, and still more rarely will such words of self-assertion come to his lips. The facts of his life and work best speak for him. Yet, like Paul, he may thankfully appear before his Master,—like the servant in the Parable of the Pounds [not, of course, the Talents, the structure and teaching of which illustrate a distinctly different point],—whose pound has gained ten pounds, whilst the same original “capital” in the case of his fellow-servants has only produced five or none (Luke 19:16-20); and may remember how greater native capacity and more abundant work have co-operated with the grace of God, to give him a real pre-eminence in toil and fruit. And he may bear himself amongst his fellows as one in whom the grace of God has found a conspicuous and instructive example of what it can do in human nature. But all for the glory of God, and for the advancement of the work committed to his hands.
We have also in this paragraph:—
II. An early account of “the Gospel” as,
1. Resting on facts;
2. Rooted in Old Testament Scripture;
3. Received by faith.
1. Resting on facts.—
(1) If any facts of ancient history can be attested at all, such main outlines at the least of the Gospel story as are given here may be. Naturally such facts, particularly that of Christ’s resurrection from a real death, need more evidence than do facts against which no presumption arises from their being unlike those of ordinary experience. “Need,” for producing conviction in ordinary minds; for one “proof,” if it were irrefragable and gave demonstration, may establish a certainty; anything beyond simply facilitates belief, by eliminating the chances of error which may lurk behind a single proof, and by giving the (not simply added, but) multiple certainty of convergent proofs, and by reducing to a minimum the force of any preliminary presumption against. When a writer says, “Early Christianity was, in all its essentials, a special development of the common religious ideas of Asia Minor and Syria. It was the creed of Adonis, the creed of Attis, dressed up afresh and applied with minor differences to a certain historical or mythical personage, said to have lived in Galilee about the beginning of the Christian era. Of this personage himself we know really nothing but the name or names; every supposed fact or incident related of him is merely one of the common and universal incidents related of all the other gods” (Grant Allen, Fortnightly Review, September 1893),—he is not only asserting what few responsible historical students would affirm, but is displaying a scepticism which would make any certainty about all ancient history, or about any facts not actually within a man’s direct personal knowledge, impossible. Historical evidence is probable evidence; but sufficient testimony may make probability practical certainty.
(2) These verses are a piece of documentary evidence acknowledged on all hands to be of the highest value. There is no important disbelief that they are part of a letter of a man practically a contemporary of the events he chronicles, writing not more than twenty-eight or thirty years after the date assumed for them. They are of a good class of testimony; epistolary, incidentally stated, not formally proved; asserted to be accepted by the readers of the letters as well as by the writer; and that, moreover, by readers many of whom were at most not favourably disposed towards the writer, whilst some of them would have been glad to discredit anything he was or said; especially when also he is here using what he claims to be their belief, to rebuke and refute what he asserts to be their inexcusable, unreasonable, mischievous error. The fact of a resurrection of a dead Christ is not one hard to be brought to the test; it is not easy, or a thing easily credible as an explanatory theory, to mistake for a Divine man risen from the dead in full vigour and glory a crucified sufferer, never really dead, reviving from a swoon, creeping feebly out of a grave (and this especially guarded) to an obscure life where no most interested enemy ever suspected His presence, or succeeded in discovering Him. The death was officially secured and acknowledged; the burial was conducted by friends, but with the cognisance and under the surveillance of enemies; a real resurrection was not difficult of verification or disproof. Fraud or conscious deception on the part of the early witnesses is not now seriously alleged.
(3) Very marked and warranted attention has of late been drawn to the evidence of 1 Corinthians 15:6. Its force was long ago perceived, but it has come into prominence as meeting the suggestion of some hallucination of a woman, infecting other women, and working with a predisposition to believe [a thing entirely without evidence, and against all such evidence as is extant, whatever be its value], to make a company of disheartened men believe that, not only was Jesus risen, but that they had seen Him so risen. “The greater part” of five hundred simultaneous spectators and auditors of the Risen Lord remained for testimony and examination. I.e. not fewer than two hundred and fifty-one, and perhaps three or four hundred, persons are asserted by Paul to be still living, not later than thirty years (at the outside) after the fact in question,—a fact about which there could be little room for mistake,—and all of them most thoroughly assured that they all saw the Crucified Christ at one and the same time. The history of conspiracies does not make it likely that in this one case only there should never have been either a penitent, or a traitor, to reveal a concerted deception, if even so many could have been brought to agree to it in the first instance. One person may be under an illusion, but hardly twelve, or two hundred and fifty-one, or five hundred; and certainly no two or twelve or five hundred would be under the same illusion, and all under the same at once. The number of the simultaneous witnesses eliminates everything subjective,—predisposition, illusion, temperament, fraud. [Myths, it is also urged, take longer time to grow than did this “myth” of Christ’s miracles and resurrection, which (N.B.) had plainly already “grown,” some years earlier than this Corinthian date. Myth, or subjective persuasion, does not account for the holy character and effects of the story. A myth, or a story whose basis was a predisposition or a temperament or a mistake, does not afford adequate foundation for the Christian Church, or account for the character and the steadfastness of the first Christians, who, against all their interests, against all the tendencies of the sinful human heart, and at severe and deadly cost, persisted in their creed and succeeded in spreading it. Nor do they account for the perennial vitality of the belief age after age, or for its renewing power in all races, Churches, social ranks, ages, both sexes, etc.
2. Rooted in Old Testament Scripture.—
(1) Christianity and its several basal facts are never fairly judged if brought to the bar standing alone. Its most startlingly miraculous fact loses much presumptive improbability, gains some presumptive probability, if it is seen to be part of a coherent scheme of facts and doctrines, in which each lends meaning and support to every other, and which gives an adequate reason for the divergence from the “natural” order and ordinary human experience. The whole company of facts must be brought to trial in their combination. [E.g. on the Christian theory of the nature and work of Christ, it is not improbable that His entrance into the world should be exceptional, or that His departure from it should be exceptional; that such a person for such a purpose should work miracles, or rise from the dead. Christianity, on its own suppositions, gives an adequate reason for all the “miraculous” in it.]
(2) Christianity must be read in the light of this fact amongst others, that it was preceded by a collection of books, held sacred by its Jewish opponents, of which it claims to be the continuation, the expansion, the complement, the fulfilment (Hebrews 1:1). The very claim is noteworthy, in face of the notoriously unfriendly attitude of Judaism to Christianity from the very first; let the reasons for making such a claim be considered. However to be accounted for, the fact remains that the Old Testament from beginning to end contains many things, many passages, which exhibit a wonderful coincidence with, and suitableness to, the history and the Christian account of the work of Christ. The Founder of Christianity Himself put His followers upon the track of discovery of such correspondences. (See Critical Notes.) Christianity and the Resurrection of its Christ are no isolated facts, sprung full-grown into a void place in the history of religions. The theory of the creation of a Christ by His followers out of presuppositions and expectations gathered from their reading of the Old Testament, disregards the only available or colourable historic evidence, that their reading and training in the Old Testament led them, as it led their Jewish enemies, into quite another line of conception and expectation of the Christ. Old Testament and New Testament are two parts of one Revelation. The Mosaic system is not the main stream of the Old Testament. It “came in” by the way; “it was added” for a special purpose (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:19); it flows alongside of the main stream. It is abundantly rich in teaching about Christ and the Gospel, the very arrangements of the Tabernacle being an object lesson in Divine truth (Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:11). But “the Scriptures” are larger than “the Law,” and some are older, or contain a record of an older revelation, than “the Law.” Christ, and the Resurrection which sets the seal of completeness upon His redeeming work, are the fulfilment of, not the hope of Israel only, but of man. In Christ are the pledge and the contents of a covenant as old as Abraham (Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:29). Christ is a new Adam, over against the first Adam. The importance of rooting the new Gospel thus firmly in the Old Testament Scriptures lay in this, that it was not Israelite only in its scope and redemption grace, but wide as mankind. And amongst its cogent “evidences” is this, that it fulfils previsions, predictions, promises, hopes, put on record long before—fulfils them where only One Mind, the Divine, could have arranged the coincidences, the correspondences, the paired anticipations and realisations (see Appended Note).
3. Received by faith.—“Ye believed;” “unless ye believed in vain.” How vital was the connection between the truth of the history and their personal Christian life will be seen subsequently in the chapter (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). But it is there discussed with regard rather to the theory of the Christian life. Practically the connection is very close. John often connects faith in the Incarnation with regeneration (1 Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 5:10-12, etc.). Paul himself very closely connects salvation with faith in the Resurrection of Christ [Romans 10:9; observe also how this is rooted in Old Testament Scripture,Deuteronomy 30:14; Deuteronomy 30:14]. The Lord and Teacher of both had connected “eternal life” with “knowing the Only True God” (John 17:3). In fact, no doctrine is believed in until it has become a truth into which living experience has admitted a man. He may indeed fall away, fearfully, from such knowledge as is even thus gained (Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 6:4-6). But it is a remote possibility. The people of Christ are “sanctified by the truth.” They have within themselves a Faith deeper than a mere Creed, however intelligently accepted and held. Without being a theologian a man may be a believer, and one also who can give a good account of his “faith.” A new environment, where unbelief is customary; a crop of difficulties and objections, not known or appreciated earlier; above all, a moral deterioration; may sever the merely “othodox man” from his creed. The believer “stands” by his faith; it gives him status before God—his only status; it brings him a real strength in which he “stands” against trial, persecution, doubt. The martyrs were drawn from this class of believers. They died for truths which had become part of their very selves, for truths which had made them what they were. [Might it be said by way of illustration, that the merely orthodox man, like the crustacean, carries his skeleton and shield and strength outside him, and so can easily “cast” it, as the crustaceans do; whilst the believer has his supporting, strengthening “truth” within, where vertebrates have their skeleton? The skeleton within the man is belief; the skeleton outside the man is orthodoxy.]
1 Corinthians 15:5-6. “According to the Scriptures.”—Two points grow out of this phrase:—
I. This organic unity between Old Testament and New Testament, and between their separate component parts, must not be underestimated. It is a fact perceived by so many students of Scripture, of such various types of mind and training, and so variously equipped with “learning,” possessing much or little of it, or (in the ordinary sense) none; it is a fact the evidence for which, whilst it can be conclusively stated in broad outline, nevertheless so reveals its full force, and the abundance of material from which it is drawn, only to patient and minute students of the Scripture, every fresh reading adding to the evidence both wealth and cogency; that it cannot be dismissed as a mistake, a subjective fancy, the dream of a particular, “mystical,” cast of mind, or of a particular school of interpretation. All devout readers find forced upon them a consistent scheme and plan in a Revelation developing from the earliest ages, and from what have hitherto been reputed the earliest books, to the latest. Above all, they have seen a disclosure of the coming Christ, growing fuller in detail, more definite in outline, from the beginning onwards. The fact has been too often perceived and verified by too great a number and variety of students of Scripture to be dismissed as an error. Part and part “hang together”; part and part give and receive light and confirmation in turn; the coincidences between Old Testament and New Testament are so many, so often incidental, so often “trivial”—many times escaping notice at a first or many a subsequent reading—that, even mathematically speaking, the chances are infinite against the Coincidence being anything less than, any other than, a real, designed, organic Connection. All the results of many centuries of study of Scripture by students of all types have accumulated “evidence” of internal harmony, of a coherent history, embodying a consistent, gradually unfolding scheme of truth, and an ever clearer disclosure of a Personality, all of which culminates in Christianity and Christ, and finds its clearest expression in Him as He is expounded by the Holy Spirit. All this must be taken account of in the present-day inquiries into the historical value of (say) the earlier story of Israel or of the Mosaic Institute, and into the literary history of the process by which the Bible has reached its present form. Higher Criticism approaches the problem of the origin and composition of the extant Bible, simply as dealing with an ancient literature. It endeavours to discover and exhibit the constituent elements of those books which it believes to show a composite structure; it hopes to trace the process of literary composition, as conducted by several hands at several points of time; it endeavours to trace and date the sources from which material has been gathered for our present books; it hopes to fix scientifically the authorship of whole books or separate portions. Moreover, it endeavours to appraise the historical value or no-value of the contents of the books. The process of inquiry is perfectly legitimate; the Bible may be examined from that standpoint, as from many others. The results arrived at are reached under the conditions and with the risks attaching to all “specialist” inquiry, or any many-sided or complex subject whatsoever. And they need checking by and co-ordinating with the results arrived at on all other lines of inquiry, and yielded by the examination of all other kinds of evidence, which may bear upon the problem of the literary origin and history of the composition of what, in the issue, is in the hands of the Church as the Old Testament and the New Testament,—the Bible. Inquirers and students who are not competent to attack the problem from the side of literary criticism can and do attack it from the side and study of the organic connection and consistent development of both history and doctrine which is found to obtain in the extant Bible. When some Higher Criticism pronounces that no books in their present form, and no very reliable history amongst their contents, date much farther back than (say) the days of Josiah, and that very much of the Mosaic Ritual Law, and even the Tabernacle itself, is a late, very late, and not very honest, after-thought of a priestly order, then the students of the organic structure and development ask that their results may also be taken into account before the verdict on the whole case is finally given. They point out, e.g., that in 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 a parallel is brought out, and wrought out, between Adam and Christ and their respective relations to the race—a parallel which is by no means a mere Rabbinic allegorising of a story which may be a pretty and serviceable myth, but is a development of a great idea of God underlying the whole scheme of ruin and redemption, from its inception in Eden to its consummation in glory. Before the early pages of Genesis are dismissed as unhistoric, the place their narrative occupies in the organically developing Divine plan should be considered. If “Abraham” be a mere eponymic personage, it is difficult to attribute any serious present-day value to the arguments in Galatians 3:4 as to the relation of “the covenant confirmed to him by God in Christ” to the Law and to the Gospel and the privileges of believers. If the widely current critical account of the origin and history of the Tabernacle and its ritual of atoning and other sacrifices be true, what permanent worth, what truth which would be more than pretty fancies or happy allegorising, what truth for which God could be held responsible, would there be in all the discoveries therein, by (say) the writer of Hebrews, of anticipations of the Great Sacrifice and of the whole scheme of Sin and its Remedy? The whole story of Israel, and especially of its Exodus from Egypt and its Eisodus into Canaan, yields an abundant and abundantly verified harvest of points of spiritual significance and of parallelism with the regenerate life, and with even the historic life of Jesus of Nazareth. All these separate and very significant episodes of the Old Testament story are so used by Christ and His apostles as to bring them into the closest designed connection with the one, whole, harmonious, age-long unfolding of God’s redeeming idea and its historical introduction into the world. if Christ, if Redemption, if the Christian life are all “according to the Scriptures,”—“Law, Prophets, Psalms,” all (Luke 24:44),—then what are the Scriptures, even in their earliest portions? If they be not history, then there might have been indeed a developing story of a Redemptive Work, but at all events we have no reliable account of it. If Adam and Abraham and Moses and David are not certainly historical, then all the New Testament account of the Old Testament preparation for Christ, in which they are essential factors, has no practically certain value.
II. Another suggestion may also be of some practical value. If the Author of Nature be the same with the Author of Revelation, and if there is development apparent in the history of the process by which Nature and Revelation have reached, each of them, their present form and stage, it would only be in agreement with all we know of His work in other directions to expect that the principle of the development would be identical, though the facts with which in the one case and the other it stands connected would belong to diverse orders, whilst yet presenting some analogies to each other. Many a student of Scripture and Revelation can pretend to no such acquaintance with the facts of the natural world as enable him to exercise an independent judgment on the methods or conclusions of the man who is a student of biological science; but he does claim a fairly complete knowledge of the facts of his own special field, where moreover the area of the field is not too large to be very thoroughly known. What be finds to be the truth about development in revelation he would expect to find to hold true in nature—that and no more. He would expect to find that the ultimate form of the theory of Origins, accepted by the students of physical science, will coincide with the result of his own working on his own group of facts, and in his familiar field. He would say, e.g., that “Man came, and is, ‘according to the Scriptures’ of the ‘stone book’ of the earlier geological history of the earth, just as Christ is, and came, and died, and rose, ‘according to the Scriptures’ of the earlier, the Old Testament ‘strata’ of the successive stages of Revelation.” The idea of the Creator, first set forth in very meagre, simple form, has in both cases been more and more fully developed. From time to time, never apart from a distinct interposition of the will of the Author of all, a new stage has been reached, a new departure has been taken, a new embodiment of His idea has been exhibited, in both Nature and Revelation. The new form has always been on the same essential lines as the older, but with many modifications, with new touches here and there, with fuller detail everywhere, adapting the old to new conditions and to the requirements of a new stage in the ruling purpose. Until at last the one series of developing expositions of the Worker’s thought culminated in Man, and the other in the God-man. [Both in the end meet in Him (Hebrews 2:0).] Man is the goal of Creation; Christ of Revelation. Man sums up all the creatures which have preceded him; Christ and His history sum up all the persons and the history which preceded them. The development which is verifiable in the history that leads up to Christ will be found to be the verifiable development in the geological and biological history which has led up to man.
1 Corinthians 15:6. “Fallen asleep.”—Sleep the new, Christian name for Death. The new, Christian name for a burial-place: Cœmetery (= Sleeping-place).
I. Merely an incident in a continuous life.—
1. No break at death in the personal life. The same Self awakes; and, through the night’s parenthesis in consciousness and activity, the same Self has gone on. [No inference to be drawn from the figure, as to any asserted loss of consciousness between death and resurrection. Figure only suitable at all as seen from the spectator’s standpoint, not the sleeper’s.] “I shall awake—I.” “I shall see for myself,” etc. Shall answer the call of the awakening trumpet, with the consciousness that it is my same Self which greets the dawn of the eternal Day.
2. As, of a morning, the happy soul has many a time awoke eager to resume “fellowship with the Father”; has awoke to find the Father, Who has been waking whilst the child slept, still there, just as He was there, filling the last moments of last night’s consciousness with the sense of His presence; so the soul which closed its eyes in the presence of the Father, wakes from this “Sleep” to say, as its first glad greeting of the Morning of Eternity: “When I awake I am still with Thee!” The same Self awakes, to find the same God, and to enjoy the same holy fellowship.
II. Sleep has the prospect of awakening.—Bold unbelief in the French Revolution wrote upon the gate of Père la Chaise, “Death is an eternal sleep.” No. Whatever Death may introduce to, it is but to a terminable, temporary experience. The “grave is not the goal” of life; only another, passing, stage towards the goal. [The certainty of the awakening “in Christ” is mainly in this chapter. But the man out of Christ is to remember how temporary is the episode called “Death”; how certain is the awakening; how he then takes up again, how indeed he has all through taken along with him, the old responsibility and guilt.]
III. A brief passage in our continuous existence.—Psalms 90:5 reminds how a night’s sound sleep seems but as a moment; a man seems only just to have come to rest. It will not be long before our “sleeping” shall be broken in upon by the voice of one who says tenderly, and yet mightily, “Talitha cumi” (almost = “Awake up, my child”). Then also rest is suggested; an escape from the trouble and clamour of life, and from the tension which strain brain and heart almost past endurance (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
IV. Remember: “Asleep in Christ;” “asleep through Jesus.”
V. Remember the first instance of the phrase: Stephen has struggled to his knees for a prayer, after the crush of the first stones, hurled upon his chest by the witnesses, as he lay upon the ground. Next he is struck down again by the hail of stones, or sinks exhausted. But he sees his Lord “standing,” watching the scene with keen interest; standing, as if He could not keep His seat upon His throne, in His eager restlessness to welcome the first to follow Him through the gate of blood into heaven’s rest. And he no longer sees the scowling, angry, murderous faces that glower upon “the Nazarene blasphemer.” The shouts of execration die out of his ears. He perhaps hardly longer feels the stones. He sees the Son of Man, and “falls asleep.” A rough bed for the death scene!
1 Corinthians 15:6. Some are fallen asleep.—The first reflection upon the early resting of one of the ministers [workers] of Jesus Christ comes most naturally in the words of His own comforting question, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” He gave it as a reason for not shrinking from the risk of returning into a dangerous place at the call of duty. “Immortal till His work was done,” He would “go into Judæa again.” He would “walk today and to-morrow and the day following,” regardless alike of Herod’s threatening and of Judas’s treachery; the day has twelve hours, and it will surely see them to their close. This teaches us a new measurement of time. It is not the accomplishment of the threescore and ten or fourscore years which makes a life complete in the reckoning of God’s sanctuary. The life of a little child has its twelve hours. It may be a complete life, as God sees it, quite as truly as the life which has been dragged out to its utmost length of ninety years on a hundred. It may as perfectly have accomplished the thing whereto He sent it—it may have borne as real a testimony to His loving, life-giving grace—as if childhood had lived on into youth, and youth into manhood, and manhood into old age. “They reckon not by days and years, Where he has gone to dwell.” There were twelve hours, even in that life’s brief day. Though the constituent “hour” may not have been one year long, still—to apply, somewhat inaccurately, the words of a Prophet—still “the child may die,” in God’s reckoning, “a hundred years old.” Certainly there may be the twelve hours of a very full day in a [ministerial] life very brief in years. Some of the men of everlasting remembrance in the Church [of England] have died at the age of thirty years or under. It is the devotion which counts. It is the earnestness which tells. We do not undervalue the testimony of a long life—a life protracted into days even of weakness, suffering, and silence in the holy service. But we say this, that in some respects, and for some purposes, no testimony is like the testimony of the young, and no [life’s] ministry has the same astonishment in it, for the world that looks on, as [that] of one who, with all the life in him, all the impulses which drive others into self-indulgence and sin, is seen firm in principle and resolute in duty, having “given himself first to the Lord,” and then all he has—all that he might have enjoyed, and all that he might have become.
Brethren, the time is short for the youngest of us—what must it be for the one eldest?… Age advances, and death must come; let us work while it is day. Let us help one another while we can. Let us remember them that are fallen asleep, trying to follow them as they followed Christ, “whose faith follow, as you contemplate the end of their conversation”—their death, that is, in the faith of Jesus; remembering that One Person never dies—“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.” Let us cherish the bond which binds us to each other—a true bond, powerful to knit hearts. Let us pray for one another, that we may all meet at last, not one missing, in that world of which it is written, “These are they that have washed their robes”—they were not clean always—“and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,” etc.—Extracted from sermon by Dean Vaughan, “Rest Awhile,” pp. 94–100.
1 Corinthians 15:6, coupled with 1 Corinthians 15:34.
I. There is a death which is only a sleep.
II. There is a sleep [of sin] which is a [moral] death (Ephesians 5:14).
1 Corinthians 15:10. All of Grace.
I. Our experience.
II. Our labours.
III. Our success.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 15:11. Two All-important Things about the Preaching.
I. Not the preacher, but the truth preached—[“Whether I or they;” that matters nothing.]
II. Not the hearing, but the belief of the truth.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 15:12.—Cf. the strain of 1 Thessalonians 4:14, or Romans 8:11. Also see that it is “Christ” [and not first of all facts about Him] who is the burden and substance of the preaching. Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5, “We preach Christ Jesus, as Lord.” Perhaps “denying” a resurrection in fact, whilst claiming still to “believe in it” in the (non-natural) sense of 2 Timothy 2:18. [Epicureans were practically Materialists; Stoics taught (a Nirvana-like or Pantheist) return of the individual into the Great, Central Being. So they laughed with polite contempt at Athens. “A new god and goddess: Jesus and Anastasis” (Acts 17:18). Common people believed that death was either extinction of the soul or a worthless shadow life, and this most likely the form of disbelief which would be prevalent in the Church at Corinth. (After all, in this, as in many similar cases, the philosophers only state more explicitly what common people with native shrewdness feel. E.g. the difficulties raised in 1 Corinthians 15:35 are recurrent perpetually amongst plain people who never heard of even the names of the philosophers.) Very important to notice in this discussion how the resurrection of the body is made to stand or fall with the after-life of the man. As in Mark 12:18 sqq. Christ enlarges the scope of the discussion from one merely concerning the resurrection, to an argument for the immortality of the man in covenant with God, and hence for his body also, as an integral part of his redeemed and covenanted manhood.]
1 Corinthians 15:12.—“If one, then all.”
1 Corinthians 15:13.—“All, or none at all.”
1 Corinthians 15:14.—Not this time “vain” through any fault or failure on their part, but because the very basis of faith and life has been an unreality.
1 Corinthians 15:15.—“We were chosen to be His witnesses of this very fact (Acts 10:41; Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Acts 13:31); it would turn out that we were God’s false witnesses!” Of God (second time) is “as to God, and what He has done.”
1 Corinthians 15:18. In Christ.—As Revelation 14:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16. [But not 1 Corinthians 15:14, which is “through Jesus,” rendering the connection more probable “will God bring through Jesus with Him” (viz. Jesus).]
1 Corinthians 15:19.—Do not connect “hoped in Christ.” [Cf. for this, 1 John 3:3 (no longer ambiguous in R.V.). Yet see Ephesians 1:12.] Our whole life is “in Christ”; our “hope” is the hope of men who are “in Christ.” Miserable.—In the old sense (cf. “miserable sinners” in the Anglican Liturgy) “to be pitied, or compassionated, unhappy that we are!”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 15:12-19
1. “Does death end all?” Well, answer another question: “Did His death end all?” A popular illustrated edition of Renan’s Vie de Jésus has, as its last page, inserted even after the “Fin,” which closes the text, a woodcut of the Crucified. It is simply and only a crucified peasant, one before whose cross a man might pass with half-contemptuous pity, and cry in modern slang, “Poor beggar! Pauvre diable!” He is alone as he hangs in the picture; not even the raven of the classical quotation is yet wheeling around the gibbet; the sky behind is cloudy and angry; the head hangs slouched in death’s relaxation; the hair is the uncombed, matted mass of a wretched peasant who for twenty-four hours has been in the hands of enemies. The title of the picture might have been “Fin” too. The realistic page, the execution of a Jewish fanatic, is the last in Renan’s book. When He says, “It is finished,” Renan thinks it is finished too. The Vie de Jésus goes no further. Forsaken, a failure, finished,—so He hangs in the illustration. If that were all, if the life of Jesus did end there, what a difference! But is that the end of the story of the Incarnate Son? No. His life did not begin at Bethlehem; nor did it finish at Calvary. Yet such talk as was rife at Corinth, at least in some quarters, could only have one logical consequence, viz. that it did there finish, that Christ, like any other dear or great name of the past, is nothing but a memory.
2. Doubtless a good deal of such talk was the informal, loose, “liberal,” “intellectual” theologising on this particular topic, of which the first and last and only specimen was by no means that in Corinth. Some caught up, parrot-fashion, the current novelty of their circle: “No intelligent man, you know, believes in any resurrection of literally dead men. Nobody, you know, denies the Resurrection. Oh no; but of course it is agreed that nothing was ever meant but a moral rising again. ‘Awake to righteousness,’ for example.” Or a superficial, natural sharpness, in danger of making that native shrewdness which so generally proves right in common things, the arbiter of judgment in every sort of case which comes under its review, pronounces off-hand: “Cannot be, you know! The dead rise again? The dead? Why, look at them! Is not that enough?” (1 Corinthians 15:35). Or another of these exceedingly clever, reasonable people, with great wisdom propounds their pet difficulty: “Well, you see, our point is here. We cannot see where they are to get a body. What sort of body is conceivable for them? No, no; such a doctrine cannot pass muster with us.” Human nature is the same in all ages and Churches and lands. It likes to pose as the philosopher; it likes to be amongst the people “not quite so easily satisfied as some folks, you know!” And there may have been some in their hearts really half afraid of the doctrine; hardly caring to face the thought of having some day to confront in a restored life the past and its account.
3. By-and-by (1 Corinthians 15:36 sqq.) Paul deals fully with the objections raised by such “sharp,” “’cute” people, rather vain of their wisdom, and of their emancipation from old and foolish beliefs. Here he drives home at their Christianity. He gives them credit for being sincerely Christian, so far as they understood it. In 1 Corinthians 15:36 he is bitingly satirical: “Yes, you are exceedingly clever, no doubt, to perceive such difficulties. But you are really fools, with all your wisdom.” Here he takes the most favourable estimate: They do really care to be Christians; they do really prize their Christian hope; they would be distressed, he is willing to believe, if all ended in vanity and mocking emptiness. Then let them look where they are being led, before they commit themselves to such rash pronouncements. Are they prepared to go all the length of the path into which, with such a light heart and confident, they have begun to enter?
4. “No resurrection of dead persons” at all? Then take a choice; read the alternative in two directions: “All, or none at all.” All, or no risen Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:13; 1 Corinthians 15:16). “One and all.” A risen Christ, and therefore all! If no risen Christ, then all distinctively “Christian” preaching is folly (1 Corinthians 15:14), or falsehood (1 Corinthians 15:15), whether intentionally so or not. To recast, reconstruct, the Christian scheme, so as to leave out a Risen Christ, is to produce what is not Christianity at all. For what underlies this elimination of His rising again in the proposed scheme of doctrine? Naturalism; which presumes always against the breaking-in of the supernatural, and even the exceptional, upon the natural and ordinary in the world’s course. [“Are we then, by assuming this one event, to abandon the entire modern view of the world?” (A. Schweizer, quoted by Delitzsch). “So soon as I can convince myself of the reality of the resurrection of Christ, this absolute miracle, as Paul seems to declare it, I shatter the modern conception of the word. This breach in the order of nature, which I regard as inviolable, would be an irreparable breach in my system, in my whole world of thought” (H. Lang, apud Delitzsch, Expositor, January 1889).] And that is no “Christianity” which is not full of God’s present-day, active, wise, loving operativeness in His world, especially as incessantly “elaborating” its Redemption by His Son, Christ. As well, moreover, delete the Cross as the Resurrection, and hope to call the expurgated story the story of Christ. It may be an imitation of the story; like some clever historical novels, making use of known facts, and keeping in many parts fairly parallel with them. But though it may borrow the name, and try to pass as “a Gospel,” though with differences; it is a “different Gospel”; another there cannot be (Galatians 1:6-7). The old “preaching is vain” if this be true. A vexatiously restrictive code of ethics is left, without adequate motive or power, and encumbered with a good deal else besides the Resurrection which is “top-hamper,” some day to be thrown overboard to lighten the ship.
5. Nor has it only theological consequences. The practical consequences are many and serious. Faith in good testimony is seriously shaken (1 Corinthians 15:15); but of more consequence is it that Faith has been groping after, laying hold of, a shadow, a memory, a name, a vanished Christ. There may have been an offering of the Lamb of God on Calvary, but we have no token by which to differentiate that death from any other crucifixion. The offering may have been accepted, but we have no evidence of the fact. Behind the veil there is for a guilty soul no real, living, interceding High Priest drawing near to God with its burden of “sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Long ago that “High Priest’s” body was left to corrupt in its new grave in a garden near Jerusalem. Jesus is no more than the Lazarus now finally dead; He is only living as Paul is still living. The death on the cross may then well have been only the abortive end, unfortunately premature, of a life which might have done much more for its generation if it had been longer spared. But everything distinctive of the Christian hope, everything of a real Atonement on which a guilty conscience may stay itself, is gone. Christ is one of the world’s great names—perhaps the greatest. But “in Christ”? As well say “in Paul”?
6. “In Christ.” It is a restricted life. It has its joys and its compensations, whatever its value, or truth, or falsehood. But it has its restrictions, its sacrifices, its self-denial; it goes entirely against the “grain” of human nature; it entails heavy penalties, social and other. And if, after all, its eternal compensation is a delusion; if, above all, the guilty soul must pass into eternity without a Saviour and an Atonement, left eternally “in the lurch,” “made ashamed by our hope” (Romans 5:5); then Christians have lived in a fool’s paradise, and made a fool’s bargain. In the arena as they are, before a gazing world (1 Corinthians 4:9), they may well expect the laughter of the spectators, unless indeed these accord them pity. They are of “all men most pitiable.” “Nos perituri salutamus.” [And this is not much mitigated, if—seeing that the argument of the chapter assumes that no resurrection means no after-life at all, and so no judgment or (perhaps) hell—it be the earthly bargain of which account is alone taken by Paul.]
1 Corinthians 15:19. “If … of all men most miserable.”
I. A few of the facts which this implies.—
1. There is misery among men upon earth. Obviously. But remember three things:
(1) Not so great misery as man’s sin deserves.
(2) Not so great as man’s happiness. Days, weeks, of affliction; years of health and happiness.
(3) Not so great as the good it will ultimately work out. Suffering in perdition works no good; here, under Mediatorial rule, it is disciplinary and corrective.
2. Misery amongst men exists in different degrees.—Some are “most miserable.” Calm and sunshine in one lot; storm and darkness in another. One knows nothing of sickness or poverty; another nothing of health and sufficiency. Some followed by consequences of sin, lashed by guilty conscience; some sin and suffer nothing; some have the Christian peace. A day is coming when eternal justice must balance the accounts, for earth’s inequalities.
3. The degree of misery is sometimes regulated by hope.—Hope directed to right objects, and rightly founded, will bear a man up under all the ills of life, make him calm in the tempest and valiant in the fight; will give him such a grasp on the future as will prevent him from sinking under the present. It will be a firm anchor, holding his ship securely amidst the tumultuous billows of his stormy life. Yet does not all disappointment grow out of hope? What is disappointment but a hope lost? And this, but a kind of life lost? Loss of hope is hell.
4. The hope of a Christian, if false, will make him “of all men most miserable.”—These words must not be taken to teach:
(1) That apart from the resurrection of Christ man has no [kind or measure of] evidence of a future state. “It is said that the Emperor Frederick III., hearing of the death of a very wicked man, who had lived in prosperity, without having had at any time his health or fortune impaired, and died at the age of ninety-three, said, ‘See here a proof of another life.’ ” So whispers the rational instinct of all.
(2) That, on the supposition that there is no future life, the practice of virtue here would place man in a worse condition than vice. Virtue, as embodied in Christianity, would give a man considerable advantage even in this world. “Ways of pleasantness,” etc.
(3) That, apart from a future state, a godly life is not binding on man. So long as man and his Maker exist in relation to each other, so long his obligation to love Him “with all his heart,” etc., must continue. What, then, do they mean? [The writer then greatly limits the truth of the text to the Apostle and his “evangelical contemporaries.” (But query this?) Also (he says) remember “that he supposes the disappointed to survive the discovery of the delusion.” Else existence would terminate in, or the next moment after, the discovery of the delusion, and there would be no misery at all. (Query, this over subtle?)] The misery of a tremendous disappointment. [Is not the usual, “superficial” view truer, that it is that present loss and unhappiness which to the outside world seems in varying degree always to be the price of being a Christian? “The game not worth the candle.”]
II. Several things will tend to aggravate this disappointment.—
1. The hold which the blighted hope had obtained over the whole soul. Solomon speaks of the loss of a hope as “the giving up of the ghost.” His idea was that the dissolution of a soul from hope was as terrible and distressing as the dissolution of soul from body. Imagine the case of a man who had thrown his whole being into Christianity, who had allowed its doctrines to absorb his thoughts, its precepts to rule his life, its promises to fire his aspirations, and who sanctified all the comforts, advantages, and honours of this life for its sake, being met at the moment when his hopes were at their zenith, and when his death was at hand, with the conviction that all was a delusion; and you have a man “of all men most miserable.”
2. The deception which this blighted hope prompted [Query, “led”?] its subjects to practise.—“False witnesses of God.” The deception of a hearty and practical believer in Christianity is earnest. If he believes in the leading subjects contained in the Gospel, he must become an enthusiastic propagandist; the desire to make men believe as he does becomes the dominant passion. His deception is systematic, not an occasional attempt, a spasmodic effort, a desultory endeavour; it is the organised purpose of his life. It is influential. No system has proved itself more victoriously aggressive. By it these workers “turned the world upside down.” To think, then, that not only themselves had been the victims of delusion, but had helped to make others such, would intensify the disappointment, and render them “most miserable.”
3. The destitution in which the departure of the hope would leave the soul.—Christianity makes a most radical change in a man: what he once loved he loathes, what he once sought he shuns, once valued now despises, what seemed gain to him counts loss. On the discovery of the delusion, he would be left with tastes and desires for which there was no pleasure correspondent. Nothing in the old to meet the new proclivities, and the new has melted away into thin air.
Conclusion.—Add these things together, and then—“most miserable.” Thank God all this only hypothetic. “But now Is Christ risen,” etc.—Adapted from “Homilist” New Series, 4:61.
1 Corinthians 15:14. Reverse the Proposition.
I. Preaching is not in vain.—It has power. It effects moral miracles.
II. Faith is not vain.—It brings comfort, pardon, life. Therefore—
III. Christ is risen.—[J. L.]
1 Corinthians 15:20. Hath.—Emphasis here, not on “now” or “Christ.” Over against their doubts, and speculations, and “impossibilities,” Paul sets the one conclusive fact. Firstfruits.—Read in the light of Romans 11:16; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4; Matthew 27:52-53. With a variant figure the thought is in Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23. By man … by man.—Resurrection actually comes “by man”; we may almost say must so come, and so He became man. He the Judge also because “the Son of Man” (John 5:27). All … All.—How wide is the second “all”? Is the verse to read,
(1) “All (men) … (we believers) all”? Not exegetically very natural. Is it
(2) “(We believers) all … (we believers) all”? True; but the first member of the sentence is narrower than the fact, and scarcely worthy of the race-wide view here taken of the two Adams and their connected “posterities.” Urged, from Augustine downwards, that Paul’s argument throughout has only those “in Christ” in view [true]; that the Resurrection existence of these out of Him is never called “life” [true]; also that 1 Corinthians 15:23 limits the argument to believers. The Greek fathers [Ellicott] read 1 Corinthians 15:22 of physical quickening, and make the verse,
(3) “All (men) … all (men)”; and bring in the limitation of the scope at 1 Corinthians 15:23. [One obvious qualification of “all die” is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.] [“The great resurrection chapter is, as it were, an expansion of the Lord’s own word, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ ” (Pope).] See Homiletic Analysis. The resurrection of the unsaved is asserted, on the highest authority, in John 5:28-29.
1 Corinthians 15:23. Order.—Quite another detail as to “order” in the Resurrection is revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 : “first … then.” Order here is “troop.” The race defiles before us, an army in three divisions: First Division—The Lord (Hebrews 12:2); Second Division—The Church of the Redeemed, some following Him already nearly two millenniums in the rear; Third Division—The rest of mankind (Evans). At His coming.—Note the (exegetical) comma. See Appended Note.
1 Corinthians 15:24. The end.—Derived perhaps from Christ’s words, reported in Matthew 24:13. “What [this] may signify cannot be determined; alii alia; in all likelihood ‘the end’ is its own [and only] interpreter.” So, wisely, Evans, who adds, with most: “It seems probable that the kingship will be handed over by the Incarnate Son to Him who is God and Father; but the kingdom of His own founding, in its contents of citizens, … Philippians 3:10, will continue; so that ‘His kingdom shall have no end’ (Daniel 7:13-14).” “The only expression about which there may reasonably be some doubt is kingdom. That it is more inclusive than the ‘regnum gratiœ’ in its ordinary acceptance, and that it may have some reference to the millennial kingdom, is probably to be inferred from the wide horizon of this holy revelation. This kingdom the Eternal Son … delivers up to the Eternal Father, not as though He were Himself thereby divested of the kingdom, but as a sharer in it for evermore.” (Ellicott.) “Then” viz. “when,.… (or, again) when.” All the consecrated words re the Second Advent are found in 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:17 : Parousia, Epiphany, Apocalypse. The kingdom.—Revelation 19:15-16. Put down.—, “abolished,” as in 2 Timothy 1:10 (A.V.). “Not total destruction, but absolute subjugation.” Favourite word of Paul’s; nine times in this Epistle, with various shades of the one meaning: “to reduce to such practical unimportance, or non-importance, that it may be left out of the account altogether.” Rule, authority, power.—Abstract, for personal concretes, as in Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:13; Colossians 1:16; Romans 8:38. He.—Viz. Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:25. He … He.—Christ … the Father (1 Corinthians 15:27, end).
1 Corinthians 15:26.—Observe the present tense of a dateless event that is, as it were, seen to be happening.
1 Corinthians 15:27.—Combine in exposition Psalms 2:6-9; Psalms 8:6; (Hebrews 2:8); Psalms 110:1.; (Hebrews 1:13); Matthew 22:44; Acts 2:34-35; (Psalms 45:6). Observe the margin, “shall have said,”—a solemn announcement to the listening world, by God Himself, parallel to that of Pa. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, the “decree” of the Son’s investiture with His mediatorial royalty.
1 Corinthians 15:28. All in all.—Cf. Colossians 3:11, an anticipatory, suggestive fulfilment of the idea.
1 Corinthians 15:29.—Very obscure to us; obviously well known to, and understood by, the Corinthians. An ad homines argument entirely. Q.d. “You deny or question the resurrection; I take you, then, on the ground of your own practice: why, then, do you baptize?” etc. There is some patristic tradition, but of uncertain value even to the Fathers who report it, of a practice of baptizing a “representative” of a man who, as yet only a catechumen, had died without baptism, lest he should for want of it be lost. [Some say putting the living man under the bed, and letting him give answers to the usual questions, addressed to the corpse!] A question is raised whether this very expression of Paul’s did not in some cases occasion such a practice. [Certainly no fair homiletic use is to be made of these words in any sense of appealing to the survivors in a Church to come forward and seek a new baptism of the Spirit, that they may fill the place, and do the work, of some who have died.]
1 Corinthians 15:30.—Another ad hominem (or ab homine) argument, but this time of abiding, real value. We.—Primarily the apostles (2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 2 Corinthians 4:10, etc.); but all Christians, sooner or later, had a taste of peril.
1 Corinthians 15:31. Your rejoicing.—As text. Q.d. “I say emphatically, brethren—and to you of whom I so constantly make my boast, should I be likely to say anything but what is the simple fact? You will believe me—I die daily.”
1 Corinthians 15:32. After the manner of men.—I.e. “With no better hopes or prospect of the future, than ‘natural’ men, and men without even the Gospel revelation, have when they endure risk, and face conflict and danger.” The converse case is put in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Wherefore,” i.e. “Seeing you have such hopes,” etc. Fought with beasts.—Cf. the unrecorded, perhaps identical, peril of 2 Corinthians 1:8. All one word in Greek; no specialising of literal “beasts,” such as the English suggests: “I was like a beast-fighting gladiator in an amphitheatre.” [Precisely similar idealising of the fact in Psalms 22:11-13. Also, Ignatius writes of his guards (“leopards,” he calls them): “All the way from Syria to Rome (on his way to martyrdom) did I beast-fight by land and sea.”] Observe the varying connection by punctuation in A.V. and; either good, A.V. better. Quotation from Isaiah 22:13, of Jerusalem profligacy when Sennacherib was at hand.
1 Corinthians 15:33.—Perhaps the fall into immorality in the Church at Corinth had been facilitated by a weakened faith in the Resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:34. “Arouse yourselves,” as if from the sleep after the orgies of Isaiah 22:13, “and show yourselves, and bear yourselves, righteously.” Well expounded by 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8. “I speak this, in order to your shaming.” (So 1 Corinthians 6:5.)
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 15:20-34
The Divine Goal of Creation History.
I. Contrasts.—This section divides at 1 Corinthians 15:29. In the one half and in the other we are at two levels, in two worlds. [Cf. Raphael’s “Transfiguration,” where literal truth is sacrificed to the higher truth of the nearness and close relation between the upper, mountain-top world of calm, light, heaven, glory, and the lower world of scoffing Pharisees, bewildered disciples, and demon-possessed humanity.] In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 we are amongst the most sublime disclosures of all the Christian Scriptures—disclosures which with their very excess of glory almost cease to disclose anything. They are sublime almost to being obscure. The horizon is so bright, and the facts are so far away and so low down towards it, that we can scarcely make out anything. We hear such words as 1 Corinthians 15:28; we repeat the words; but we can scarcely do more than let our hearts ponder, and reverently and soberly imagine; we can make nothing precise. Paul is borne up and along in soaring flights of confident strength, where we can hardly follow, even with our eyes. On the other hand, in 1 Corinthians 15:29-34, we are on a very earthly level indeed. There is mystery here, but only such as wraps around an obscure, superstitious practice of a few half Christianised Corinthians. The rest is plain enough! A Paul in the midst of men who are like the very “beasts” of the amphitheatre. Corinthians sinking into a drunken sleep of unrighteousness, from which he seeks to “awaken” them to “righteousness,” or, at the least, to “shame.” [Such revelations to be first given to the world in a letter to such “Christians”! “Kind to the unthankful and to the evil” indeed (Luke 6:35).] So near, also, are the two worlds always. The evil closely enfolds the holy. Or is it the holy which enfolds the evil? The salt is—just where it is wanted—in the midst of what but for it would be corruption. We live in both worlds. In the seclusion of the mountain-top sometimes; oftener at the mountain-foot amongst the enemies and the demons, or in the arena amongst the beasts. Happy if the memories of the upper level are our strength down on the lower. Happy if such truths as are in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 may keep our souls from the infection of “evil communications,” or from the “sleep” of the intoxication of scepticism or sin. So, again, are the two worlds near together, the two levels not very remote, in the inner life of the soul. Glorious revelations; miserable superstitions. Soaring hopes of victories; battles for very life with the “beast” within our nature. Standing by the side of our Lord, with our foot placed where His has first been, on the neck of some foe of our soul’s Life; sinking into the perilous, criminal sloth or torpor induced by an atmosphere of “evil communications.” And thus we knit together the two ends of the paragraph. “Now is Christ risen.” Spite of all the theorisers and speculators and keen creators of “insuperable” difficulties, the fact is sure. Paul stands by the slothful, sleeping, drunken-souled Corinthians, and shouts his cry into the drowsy ear: “Christ is risen! Do ye arise; awake; shake off your sleep; arouse yourselves and be righteous! Righteous! Why you are past shaming. You have not the knowledge of God.” I.e. they are back again in, and of, the “world which knew not God” (1 Corinthians 1:21). If Regeneration was an upward development, there has now been Degeneration; these men who “knew God” were only a variation wrought and sustained by Grace. They have now sinned against grace; in them nature has “reverted to type.” “You have not the knowledge of God.” [Observe the close connection between unrighteousness and the loss of the knowledge of God. Cf. Romans 1:18-23.]
II. Christ.—Like the Russians and Greeks on Easter morning, Paul is ready to go up and down, saying with a holy cheerfulness of salutation to every fellow-Christian, “Brother, now is Christ risen!” This is a perpetual Easter-morning age for the Church of the Risen Christ. Every Christian may look every other in the face with the glad cry, “He is risen.” But why should not He be simply treated as an isolated case? Why should we not believe in His rising, whilst disbelieving or doubting any other, or our own?
1. Because He is another “Adam”—The race is not made up of aggregated units. There is a solidarity in the history and fortunes of mankind. Contrast the angels. So far as we know, they are each one an independent creation; probably they have been contemporaries in age from the first; each living a natural life complete within itself, dependent only upon God. But any one generation of mankind owes life to the preceding, and these to another preceding them, and so on till “Adam” [= Adam + Eve] is reached. The angels are an aggregate of individuals only. Each might stand or fall alone. The human race is a unity; it is a tree, where branch springs out of branch in periodic succession. [It is a Vine, a wild vine.] The old theologians called this a federal principle. There is a law of dealing with great Unities in God’s administration of His rule over our race. “Abraham” means for some purposes Abraham and his descendants; “Christ” means Christ and His people; Adam stood for himself and mankind. And so the authorised, official, inspired, “prophetic” exposition of history here given makes it clear that the human race may be summarised in two “Adams.” Or, to change the aspect of the truth, without affecting its substance, there are two Mankinds, each with its Adam, each with its close-knit unity and continuity of life, each with its solidarity of history and fortunes. But the link which forms the unity is in the one case a physical derivation and succession, in the other a spiritual unity and succession. [A real sense in which the Christians of any one age are the descendants of, and owe their life to, those of the next, and all, preceding.] The first, dying Adam involved a race of natural descendants in his death—in all its senses. The Risen Adam includes in His resurrection victory another race in whom His Spirit is the link of continuous, corporate life, quickening even their “mortal bodies.” No man stands or falls alone; isolation, independence, is not the “law” of the history of Humanity. The Christ did not die or rise alone; that is not the law of the new Humanity, of which he is the new “Adam.” To change the figure again,
2. Because He is the Firstfruits of the harvest of rising humanity.—“Sown” through long ages, in all nooks and corners of earth’s field. The field is full of its human seed. The seed is waiting for the touch of the Eternal Springtide. The call of Spring yearly awakens sleeping Nature into bud, and flower, and fruit, and harvest. That other Spring shall come with a “trumpet” call,—
[“Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
Per sepulchra regionum”],—
and every buried seed shall start forth into perfect and eternally mature life. The “firstfruits” says that there is a harvest behind; it promises a harvest; it pledges a harvest; it “samples” the following harvest; the offering of the firstfruits consecrates the coming harvest. [As in another application, the firstfruits of the week, the Sunday, is no quittance paid to God that then we may claim and use the six remaining for ourselves, as if our own. The firstfruits of the week thus given to Him acknowledge that all the days are His, all to be spent as He will approve, whilst He lends us six and keeps only one exclusively for Himself.]
3. Captain of a host.—
(1) Hebrews 2:10 [which is in closest connection with the quotation here given of Psalms 8:6] makes the “perfection” of our “Captain” to lie just here, that He is not isolated as He leads the host, but has been partaker with them of “flesh and blood” and “sufferings.” Else would they who follow look forward “where their Chief precedes them” with a feeling that the Captain knew nothing of the life of the common soldier, that He alone of all the great “sacramental host” had never known the fighting and the “roughing” of their lot. Here the “partaking” looks forward into the future. The great host defiles in glorious resurrection review; each company and rank passes in its “order” before the throne of God. (See the review illustration followed somewhat further in the Homiletic Analysis of whole chapter.)
(2) If no resurrection, it has been seen (1 Corinthians 15:16-19) that, hoping to be partakers with Christ, we wake up to find ourselves partakers of nothing! No. “Now is Christ risen,” and we are partakers of His victory. Our resurrection is part of our victory. We rise, that so in that fact the finishing stroke may be given to the dominion of death over our redeemed human nature. A mortal body was the last fetter of death, the last token of our sometime bondage. We rise, that so the last fetter may be stricken off. No part of our nature, spirit, soul, body, that is not delivered. It is part of His victory. We now dare, every one of us, to put our foot on the neck of Goliath, when our David has first brought him down, and planted His victorious foot upon our foe and His. This particular victory is part of a larger victory, by which is regained a lost lordship belonging to mankind. In Psalms 8:6 the opened eye of the prophet sees into the heart of things—into the inner secret of the order of Creation as it existed in the mind of the Creator. The geological history of the earth leads up to an earth fitted to be man’s home. A palæontological history can be made out, whether it be an ideal sequence only, or an historical and physical one, leading up to man. And when the home was ready, and the tenant was ready, the investiture of occupancy ran, “Let them have dominion,” etc. (Genesis 1:8). Thus he who was the goal of all the earliest history, the climax (and indeed the summation) of all the series of animate creaturely structures, the crown of creation, was also its King. [Perhaps also its High Priest, voicing the praise, the thanksgiving, the prayers, of the mute, unintelligent creation, which found in Him a brain and a heart and a voice.] Yet even this royalty is not the thought of God in its furthest reach. We speak of ascending from this to a higher. Yet it would be the truer order to work backwards and downwards, from the higher to this; as God did. We ascend from the earliest creature-life to man, the ruler of all; nor do we stop there, but go forward and upward to the Son of Man. But though we reverently so shape our thought, God began there, began with Him. He is the mediation between God and the creature, between Spirit and Matter. He is the Link. “In Him all things were created.” Man’s original royalty was but the adumbration of His. As the lower creatures had shadowed Man forth, so did he shadow the Son forth. After all, he was not the last link, but the last but one, in the chain which led up from some quasi-eozoic form to the Incarnate Son. [The Gospel is Creation’s order over again. “All things man’s. Man is Christ’s. Christ is God’s.”] But sin entered. Creation’s course had so far gone true and straight to man; now, when it should have gone true and straight through him to God, it swerved aside and was sinfully deflected. The race “missed its mark.” The race no longer rose to the Son; the Son’s garment of royalty no longer descended on man. But, ever since, slowly, piecemeal, has the lost dominion, the forfeited position, been recovered by all those who are “in” the Second Adam. The first note of the recovered victory is in the Protevangelion (Genesis 3:15); fulfilled most gloriously in the Wilderness and the Garden and at Calvary, no doubt; yet even there only anticipating the last crowning triumph of a long series of triumphs for our Captain. And with a heel sore wounded, very often does each Christian soldier step upon his foe and go on to conquer, with the heartening word ringing in his ears, “God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20). There is an enemy within him, whose dominion is broken [in closest connection with his Lord’s resurrection once more (Romans 6:10-11)]: “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (ib. 1 Corinthians 15:14). The very world with all its trials, difficulties, opposition, is a subject thing to them who are in the Man Who has never lost, who has more abundantly fulfilled, the Royalty of Man. “In jeopardy every hour;” “dying daily,” yet “all things work together for good” to men. The world is “under their feet.” [Nor need there be hesitation in seeing more than merely the relics of the original dominion, but a real mediatorially-recovered dominion, in the growing mastery wielded by man over the physical forces of the natural world, subjecting all to his daily service. Certainly in the power of Christ over even His pre-resurrection body, making it vanish from amongst His foes or walk upon the waters,—a power which was once even communicated to Peter,—we get a little opening, giving us largest views into a world of vast, dim possibilities of the power of man’s spirit, itself enfranchised from the dominion of sin, over even the material world.] There is a “last enemy” for him, as for the race,—Death. “Death is his” (1 Corinthians 3:22) already; it comes to him conquered by his Captain, and made to run on his Captain’s errand, and bear his Captain’s summons to him to a more glorious life. He is delivered from the bondage to its fear: the fear is “put under his feet”; when at last he meets it, he finds that he has but to deal with a “stingless” serpent, on whose head he can “put his foot” boldly. He is meeting nothing but the Shadow of a great Name, the Shadow of a great Dread, a thing whose substantial power is “abolished,” “destroyed.” And this detailed victory of His dying people, in succession, is part of His own (cf. Luke 10:18), which by-and-by shall be consummated in one grand public demonstration of His triumph, in the day when even the very bodies of His people have death’s yoke struck off and death itself underfoot. “All things under His feet.”
III. Consummation.—What is this “end” and the subjection of even the “Son Himself”? Answer as one did who was asked, “What is heaven like?” “I will tell you when we meet there.”
1 Corinthians 15:23-24. “The coming; the end.”—This “coming” of Christ is not, merely or exclusively, to establish His kingdom, but to judge the quick and the dead … (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, al.). Whether any, and, if any, what interval is to be supposed to exist between this “coming” and “the end” of the following verse—in fact, between “then” and “then”—the sober interpreter cannot presume even to attempt to indicate. This only may be said, that the language seems to imply a kind of interval; but that there is nothing in the particles or in the passage to warrant our conceiving it to be longer than would include the subjugation of every foe and every power of evil, and all that may be immediately associated with the mighty “end” which is specified in the succeeding verse.… It must be carefully remembered that the Apostle is here dealing with a single subject, the resurrection of the dead, and not with the connected details of eschatology. These must be gathered from other passages and other portions of Scripture.… The great difficulty in Christian eschatology is the exact position which all that is specified in Revelation 20:4 is to be supposed to hold in the sequences of the unfolding future.… Perhaps all that can be safely said is, that neither here nor in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 does the Apostle preclude the conception of a resurrection of the just (compare Luke 14:14)—possibly gradual; that in some passages (consider Romans 11:12-15) he does seem to have looked for a “flowering time” of the Church prior to the close of human history; and that here he distinctly implies a closing conflict with all the powers of evil (compare Revelation 20:7; Revelation 20:15) immediately prior to the end. That the millennial binding of Satan is to be dated from the death and resurrection of our Lord has been recently urged, … but to the detriment, as it would seem, of the distinctive idea of the millennium.—Bishop Ellicott.
1 Corinthians 15:23. “His coming.”—Parousia, indicating that when He comes He will always be present; the time of His absence will have passed away for ever.… His presence, which will then be so different from what it is now that the change from the one to the other is no less than a coming again.—Pope.
1 Corinthians 15:24. “The end.”—There will be an end and beginning of the Redeemer’s Kingdom, as it is a kingdom of grace translated into glory.
I. The mediatorial economy will cease in its relation to the Triune God; the redemptional Trinity which introduced the economy of subordination in the Two Persons will be again the absolute Trinity. The Son Incarnate will cease to mediate; as Incarnate He will be for ever subordinate, but there will be nothing to declare His subordination: no mediatorial rule over enemies, no mediatorial service or worship of His people. The Triune God will be seen by all mankind in the face of Jesus Christ, and the mediation of grace will become the mediation of glory. The Intercessor will pray for us no more, but will reveal the Father openly for ever.… The prayer of our Lord (John 17:21) will then have been fulfilled, “one in Us.” Man taken up into the Us of the Triune God will need a mediator no more.
II. The kingdom will cease because its ends will have been attained. “Then cometh the end” … to the Father as the Representative of the Trinity; “when He shall have put down.” … The process of His victories is declared in the Apocalypse: first and last, the Anti-Christ, which is a spirit of infidelity, Against Christ, having many forms, such as the Beast and the Man of Sin, and also a final personal manifestation; every description of heathenism to the ends of the earth; the corruption of Christianity, exhibited in Babylon and the Second Beast and the Harlot; and finally Death, the last enemy that shall be destroyed. In all these conflicts the Church is the fellowship of companions in “tribulation,” etc. (Revelation 1:9). We are one with our Lord, and He is one with us, in this progressive warfare and final victory. It is as “Head over all things to the Church” that the Redeemer exercises now and will end then His rule; nor is any other supression of authority alluded to than that which opposed the designs of His mediatorial kingdom. Moreover, there is nothing said of the destruction, only of the putting down of all hostile authority and power.
III. The kingdom will have a new beginning: new as the kingdom of the “new heavens,” etc.… The Spirit of Christ will be the immanent bond between Him and us, between us and the Holy Trinity (1 Corinthians 6:17). The Incarnate Person will then be glorified as never before; His personality as Divine will be no more veiled or obscured by any humiliation, nor will it be intermittently revealed. God shall be all in all, first in the Holy Trinity and then through Christ in us.—Pope, “Compend. of Theology,” iii. 425, 426.
1 Corinthians 15:27. “He hath put all things under His feet.”—It has often been asked whether David, in ascribing such dignity as he here does to man, was speaking of man in his present condition, degraded from his supremacy by the fall, or of man as originally made in the image of God and gifted with dominion over the lower creation. Now the language of the Psalm certainly points to the present. There is no trait in it of any difference between man’s original destiny and his present condition, between the ideal and the actual. Man is king of this lower world; though, because he has cast off his allegiance to the King of kings, his own subjects have renounced their allegiance to him, so that he rules by force, or manifold arts, rather than by right acknowledged and respected. But were there any higher thoughts in David’s mind? Was he thinking of man as redeemed and restored in the second Adam to his rightful supremacy?… We, who read these words in the light of the Incarnation, may see in them a significance which to his own mind they would hardly have possessed. Twice in the New Testament passages of this Psalm are applied to Christ: once by St. Paul rather in the way of allusion than of direct quotation (1 Corinthians 15:27), where he teaches that what was said by David of man is in its truest and highest sense applicable to Christ as the Great Head of Mankind; and, again, by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1 Corinthians 2:6-9), who, arguing that the words [of our verse] have not yet been literally fulfilled of man, declares that their proper fulfilment is to be seen only in Jesus … “crowned with glory and honour.” He does not say that the Psalm is a direct prophecy of Christ; but he shows that man’s destiny as depicted in the Psalm is not and cannot be accomplished out of Christ. He is the true Lord of all. In Him man recovers his rightful lordship, and shall really be in the new world of Redemption what now he is very imperfectly, God’s vicegerent ruling a subject creation in peace and harmony and love.—Perowne, “Psalms,” Psalms 8:0.
[Much also of the following passage is illustrative of 1 Corinthians 15:27 :] “The use made of this Psalm in the Epistle to the Hebrews proceeds on the understanding that it describes ideal humanity. Where, then, says the writer of the Epistle, shall we look for the realisation of that ideal? Do not the grand words sound liker irony than truth? Is this poor creature that crawls about the world, its slave, discrowned and sure to die, the Man whom the Psalmist saw? No. Then was the fair vision a baseless fabric, and is there nothing to be looked for but a dreary continuance of such abortions dragging out their futile being through hopeless generations? No; the promise shall be fulfilled for humanity, because it has been fulfilled in one man, the Man Christ Jesus. He is the realised ideal, and in Him is a life which will be communicated to all who trust and obey Him, and they, too, will become all that God meant man to be. The Psalm was not intended as a prophecy, but every clear vision of God’s purpose is a prophecy, for none of His purposes remain unfulfilled. It was not intended as a picture of the Christ, but it is so; for He and He alone is the Man who answers to that fair Divine Ideal, and He will make all His people partakers of His royalty and perfect Manhood.”—Maclaren, “Psalms,” Expositor’s Bible.
Who does not know how the tone of evil has communicated itself? Worldly minds, irreverent minds, licentious minds, leaven Society. You cannot be long with persons who by innuendo, double meaning, or lax language show an acquaintance with evil, without feeling in some degree assimilated to them, nor can you easily retain enthusiasm for right amongst those who detract and scoff at goodness. None but Christ could remain with the impenitent and be untainted.—Robertson, “Expos. Lectures,” on 1 Corinthians 5:6.
1 Corinthians 15:33. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
1. Hasty, crude thinking would say: “But that is not Scripture, though it is in Scripture. That is a verse from a heathen poet; not an inspired saying at all.” [As might similarly be said of the letter of Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26-30).] But wherever an architect gets his materials, from whatever quarry he gets a stone, and whatever therefore be its varying quality or character, if he puts it into his building, he makes it his own. It becomes part of his embodiment of his design and idea. He is responsible for its selection and presence and use. He is the author of the whole structure and of every part of it, whether he obtained the constituent parts “ready made” to his hand and purpose, or had to find them in the rough and fashion them himself. This sentence, like the pillars of St. Sophia at Constantinople, the spoils of many more ancient temples, is fetched from another earlier building, where it had its fitness and its strength. This is a stone from a heathen quarry. But the wise builder, Paul, working at the growing, and nearly completed, structure of Revelation, under the direction of its Divine Architect works it into the fabric, and when it is once there the Directing Mind is responsible for it; He has made it His own; it serves His purpose of conveying with authority His mind and will to men. [No knowledge—not even of heathen proverbs—comes amiss to a Christian teacher; everything may be made available. All the quarries, all the kingdoms, of the earth belong to our Christ. He will guide His servants how wisely to lay toll on them all!]
2. Whatever be its origin, the saying is truth. He who said it formulated the bitter experience of many a benevolent social reformer, of many a parent filled with the sorrow of hopes for his children blighted into worse than failure, of many an amiable theorist starting with some “natural goodness of human nature,” only to find that his theory is no cadre into which he can fit all the facts. [Take only a limited amount of mental luggage; pack away into the portmanteau of your theory just a few selected facts—just those you need—and you may walk away comfortably, triumphantly, in your path of hope and endeavour. But] take entire, universal human nature; take entire, universal experiment and its results; and human nature is not to be trusted to love and follow and struggle for Good. It may approve it, applaud it, love it with a very platonic sort of devotion; but it is divided against itself, and what seems, unhappily, the stronger part gravitates too easily toward evil. There is not even an even balance; the scale turning for evil is loaded.
3. Classical literature has its many familiar confessions of the innate downward drag of human nature. Indeed, never had every experiment that man could suggest for man’s elevation been more exhaustively tried, and with larger advantage of conditions for the experiment, than in Grecian and Roman society in the centuries just before Christ. Philosophy, art, government, material refinement, and cultured civilisation, had practically done all that has ever been possible to do; later ages scarcely do more than go the round of the old experiment; man had done his best for man; and the universal consent of those who know best the age of the world into which God thrust the leaven of the Gospel of Christ is that never was the failure more complete, never were the world’s “manners” more utterly and hopelessly “corrupt.” Every man who repeats the experiment upon himself comes at last to the same result, and to the same sorrowful confession (his pride may not always suffer him to make the avowal aloud), that man unaided by grace cannot keep man pure. He finds that human nature in itself has its affinities, toward evil, not good, nor God; that it has a ready assimilative power for evil; that the evil leaven soon enters, and spreads widely, whilst God’s leaven of a new life is slowly admitted, and finds resistance more probable than reception and assimilation. “The dyer’s hand is subdued to what it works in.”
4. Yet no man very readily believes in the affinity of human nature for, and its inclination toward, evil; in himself, at any rate. Or if he half admit this, he will not consent to count himself in peril. His unformulated, unspoken thought is that he, at all events, is independent of the influences of his surroundings; he can stand firm; he can keep himself from corruption. From gross and open acts of evil he perhaps may; force of character and of will, pride, shame, self-interest, and the like, may enable him to keep free from, or to break off, acts and open habits. But sin is deeper seated in his nature; its presence is more subtle in its diffusion; the susceptibility is throughout. The graver danger is from subtle and pervasive evil; sin is most dangerous where it is only an influence, an environment, always present, unceasing in its deleterious power. It is most perilous as an atmosphere producing a languor, a torpor toward good, and predisposing the enfeebled spiritual life to receive the infection of disease. It is oftener a poison in the cup than an open wound in the battle. It speaks fair, smooth things, when its “communications” are most full of corruption and deadly mischief. Man will not believe it of Man; the parent will not believe it of the “nice” child; the man will not believe it of himself, spite of many a sharp, disappointing, disheartening lesson. Paul says, “Be not deceived.” All the marvellous, fairytale records of modern science as to the assimilative powers of living things in the presence of any particular environment, have their analogies in the facts of the spiritual realm. As the surroundings such—naturally, and but for the grace of God—is the man. “As the man thinketh in his heart so is he,” no doubt. The root of all evil character is ultimately within. But it may be held in check by a holy environment. “Holy communications”—especially between the soul and its Saviour—“sanctify evil manners” into good. But more commonly, and with greater facility, “evil communications corrupt,” etc. Let no man flatter himself that he shall be any exception. The best weapon of the adversary is the “deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore—
II. Mind what company you keep—
1. No doubt the grace of God can keep Obadiah in a court where Jezebel is queen, and in a place where a Nero follows a Tiberius, a Caligula, a Claudius, “saints” may be found. But even these need to be on their strictest guard. The very physician who goes into the midst of spiritual disease needs to have a care of his own health. Only One Physician had absolute immunity from danger. [All who do “rescue” work should keep within a full spiritual vigour, a heart that “hates even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).] A Christian in worldly or distinctly evil company is a red-hot ball of iron in the midst of blocks of ice. No doubt he may melt them; there is grave danger lest they chill him.
2. For the average Christian; worldliness is a more real peril than open, shocking, repellent wickedness. It is also the more ordinary liability. The surface discrepancy between Christian and non-Christian is not perhaps great; non-Christian life is in many ways affected, shaped, restrained, by the moral standard obtaining, in a general way, in a Christian land. But there is a deep chasm of separation in all their underlying principles. The “counsel of the” non-godly can never coincide with the “law of the Lord” (Psalms 1:0) which is “in the heart” of the Christian man. Their lives may overlap, but they revolve in different circles, struck from distinct centres.
3. E.g. the whole standard according to which persons, motives, conduct, are habitually discussed and estimated in the home, is according to man, not according to God. “God is not in all their thoughts;” they may formulate no system of morals and philosophy, but their ethics of business and their view of life in the daily talk at the table and around the fire are practically without God. The interests consulted for, and by which are regulated the planning and execution of their life-work, lie within the narrow range of the horizon of the earthly life; they know, and care to know, nothing of the readjustment of values and proportions which is inevitable as soon as life is seen running on in unbroken continuity into an eternal duration. E.g. in the education of their children, or their placing out in life, in their marriages, the soul and its interests have no consideration given to them; society interests, good prospects, natural congeniality and affection—however high and worthy the type of these may be—are all. The Christian visitor in such a home is struck, not so much by what is said or done, but rather by what he misses from the customary talk and action and judgments of the family. They are on another, a lower, plane; they are in in closest daily association with him; but they and he live in different worlds of thought and feeling and judgment.
4. He may “endure as seeing Him Who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). If he begin each day by getting into very real rapport with the Unseen, and if, by often intercourse with it during the progress of the hours, he keep his windows open towards it—keep the eyesight of his soul keen and clear to see it—he may pass through unharmed. But the danger for the young, of half-formed principles, or of no definite principles whatever, is that their world should contract to the narrow limits of that of those around them; that their eye should lose its keenness of vision, or that the world’s smoke and mists should besmirch their windows until they cannot see out into the Infinite, nor can the world of the Infinities, the Eternities, the Divinities, reach through to them. The danger is that the standard of judgment, the scales by which they weigh persons, character, motives, aims, should receive—by slight, but continually repeated contacts and impressions—an unhappy, ungodly adjustment. It is natural, and far easier, by little and little to fall into worldling ways of thinking and speaking and action, more than the Christian man is aware; until one day some sudden arrest of circumstance, or some more glaring, startling discrepancy between the worldly and the godly habit and standard, “pulls him up,” and reveals to him how far he has travelled, and how widely he has diverged from the love of the law of God and of the ethics of the Gospel of Christ. To the Christian man, who of necessity must spend much of his time with the people of the world, the text comes as a warning lest his spirit catch the infection of their spirit, lest with a fatal plasticity his conscience take their impress and mould. He must keep the resilience, the resistant power, the rigidity, which comes of indwelling grace. “ ‘Be not deceived’; do not be ‘liberal,’ ‘broad,’ till you become a true worldling in temper and spirit and habit and judgment. ‘Evil communications’—not least the daily talk (ὁμιλίαι); which goes on around you, in the office, in the street, in the house—‘corrupt good manners!’ ” (See Appended Note from Robertson.)
III. Mind what books yon read, and what literature.—
1. In a word, mind the mental companionships you form, or allow to yourself. Openly vicious literature will scarcely come in the way of the bulk of decent, ordinary English people. If it did, the first dose would probably create nausea and moral revulsion—though, unhappily, even this may pass away with use. Here again the peril is rather from the literature which the Christian instinct does not so much condemn for what is present as for what is missing. The literature of the world, at its best, “says in its heart, No God.”
2. The Puritan code and the practice of the men and women of all the Churches which felt, and still feel, the impress of the Evangelical revival of the eighteenth century, were strict, “narrow”—for themselves and for those whose opinions and habits they could control—in the range of literature they permitted for ordinary reading. They found that to “glorify their God below and find their way to heaven” [by no means forgetting that, whilst the living stream is making its pure, bright way to the Ocean, it needs to be, and cannot help being, a joy and a blessing to all the dwellers along its banks and course] needed all their best energies and all the help they could obtain. At their best, the novel, the play, most of the poetry, of their day demanded the time and gave no help. Their intensely serious view of life was the basis of adjustment for all their standard of permission and perusal. The very newspaper was often looked at askance. The reaction is upon us, in our time, and is carrying Christian people quite far enough in the direction of freedom. All the fields of literature are not full of food-bearing, health-producing growth; yet the tendency is to throw them open to the free range of even the youngest, most inexperienced readers. And without keeping up the old strictness of prohibition, the Christian readers of to-day need to hear, “Be not deceived, evil communications,” etc.
3. In fiction, for example, the social code, the valuation of men and character, is seldom that of the New Testament; in some, widely read and favourably reviewed, it is hardly Ten Commandment morality. The masters of fiction, or the great playwrights, are not found working on distinctively Christian lines; they never have done. The relations between man and woman in (say) a masterpiece of art like Middlemarch are not according to Christ’s law. Vanity Fair is drawn by one who is himself a stall-holder in the Fair—so far as its code for character shows. The Christian of strong, “spiritual” instincts, in whom is answered the prayer of Philippians 1:9-11, is not at home in his mental company, as he reads. He is in continual mental and heart protest against what they say and do, and still more against their principles of action and judgment. And the danger is analogous to that of actually living in such an atmosphere and such company; the danger of adjustment little by little, of assimilation by almost imperceptible degrees—only recognisable in their total result—to the standards and practice and heart of those around him. [“Some (poets) will tune their harps to sensual pleasures, and by the enchantment of their genius will well-nigh commend their unholy themes to the imagination of saints” (Edward Irving, Div. Oracles, Oration I.).]
4. Most of the reviewing press, most of the influential literary judgment, is at its best non-Christian in its motives and its standards of appeal. The younger, the unstable, the ill-instructed Christian reader needs be on his guard, lest he “be deceived”; lest he be swept away by the strong set of the prevalent current into habits of judgment and esteem which would not be those of “life in Christ.” Beauty, masterly workmanship, in art or poetry must not excuse or glorify moral evil. To a Christian instinct art cannot be non-moral; as a fact, it is not. The master-workman of the modern world, Goethe, is a great heathen. Shakespeare, colossal in his power, embodies, like his mistress Elizabeth [see Green, History of the English People, ii. 499, “a brilliant, fanciful, unscrupulous child of earth and of the Renaissance”], the spirit and code, not of the Reformation, but of the Renaissance, in his attitude towards the moralities; it needs a strong, clear, healthy, spiritual tone to read him without some moral soil, and even some of the insensible mental adjustment which is the great peril. The young heart needs to read with Paul’s caution even in the ears, “Evil communications,” etc. Breadth, liberality, which cultivates “toleration,” indifference to all such aspects of literature, and appreciates and approves all equally if only power be there,—these belong to a life which lives and moves in another world than that which is circumscribed by the sacred limit: “in Christ.” The “man in Christ” needs in even his mental companionships to be on his strictest guard when he passes into the “world” beyond. It is apt to be “corrupt” and “corrupting.” [Similarly the evolutionary exposition of the facts of the natural world has so got possession of the press, emphemeral and more permanent alike; has so got current in the speech and thought of the leaders of the mind of the world to-day; has so boldly been carried through as a working explanation of the facts dealt with in mental and moral science; that it is difficult not to escape the infection of what, in its extremest interpreters, is a materialism without a God; difficult to come back to, and keep, one’s position at the Great Teacher’s feet, making His words, “My Father worketh hitherto,” the key to one’s interpretation and system of Nature. Facts are welcome, whoever discovers, reports, systematises them. The interpretation of the facts needs watching lest it “corrupt” the habitual, instinctive thought of the heart, which like Christ sees a world whose “laws” are simply God’s rules for His own ordinary, orderly action and government; whose “Force” is ultimately will force—that of His will; a world full of a personal God.]
1 Corinthians 15:35.—
(1) Emphasis on “the dead,—the DEAD!—the DEAD!”
(2) “With what (kind of) body?” See Homiletic Analysis.
1 Corinthians 15:36.—Emphasis on “thou” (so R.V.); answers
(1). (John 12:24)
1 Corinthians 15:37.—
(2) is answered in 1 Corinthians 15:37-54. Not the body that shall be.—I.e., as the argument requires, quâ its physical constitution; “not the (kind of) body that,” etc. Bare.—I.e. “naked”; “a grain not yet clothed with that body that shall be” (Ellicott), 2 Corinthians 5:3; “the resurrection body shall be clothed with glory” (Evans).
1 Corinthians 15:38.—“The Apostle … uses the argument of analogy, not to solve what he leaves a mystery, but to obviate objection. The present world furnishes abundant analogies, but no resemblances of the future resurrection. Nothing in the buried flesh germinates as the life in a seed-corn; the new life is a direct creation. ‘God giveth,’ etc. Not that the disembodied spirit will form for itself a new vehicle, but that in the resurrection the spirit will have a spiritual—psychical—organism given to it, which in the wonder of Divine power will be to it the same organ it had in time.” (Pope, Compend. of Theol., 3:408.) “A body of its own (kind);” query, any more than this, here?
1 Corinthians 15:39.—There is room, then, for another kind of body than that which makes the difficulty of 1 Corinthians 15:35.
1 Corinthians 15:40.—Nothing to do in this verse with the astronomical “celestial bodies.” See Homiletic Analysis (Whole Chapter).
1 Corinthians 15:41.—Here, indeed, these come in, but only for a comparison in point of “glory” not of physical constitution.
1 Corinthians 15:42. So.—Wide diversity between old and new, boundless possibilities of variety, in kind and in degree of glory. It.—Must not be made too emphatic, so as to carry the weight of the Identity of the body. The nearest to a nominative to the verb is “the resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:42).
1 Corinthians 15:43. Dishonour.—“Funeral pomp is but a mask biding the truth that the body carried to the grave has lost the rights of humanity. Instead of the kind attentions rendered to it a few days ago, it is left alone in the dark and silent grave, as the meanest living body would not be.” (Beet.) In power.—All “bodily” faculties intensified, perhaps with new faculties added.
1 Corinthians 15:44. Natural … spiritual.—As throughout, e.g., chap. 2. If there is a body for the πνεῦμα, as in fact there is, then the presumption is also that there will be a body for the ψυχή. A body in both cases adapted
(1) to its tenant, and
(2) to its world and environment; and further—
1 Corinthians 15:45.—Congruous with
(1) The living soul, Adam, and
(2) the life-giving spirit, the Last [not the Second] Adam (Genesis 2:7; John 5:21; John 6:63; John 11:25; John 14:6). Distinguish between the Old Testament historic quotation here and the New Testament prophetic supplement.
1 Corinthians 15:46.—A principle, perhaps as broad as creation, holding good in, e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:47.
1 Corinthians 15:47.—Note the true reading (R.V.). Of heaven.—As in the Litany: “O God the Father, of heaven,” where notice the comma.
1 Corinthians 15:48.—“The earthy (Adam, or man); the heavenly (Adam, or man).” (Sing. masc.)
1 Corinthians 15:49.—Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:11. Notice the margin (R.V.), but prefer the text. Paul is not dealing with ethics, but with physiology (Evans).
1 Corinthians 15:50. This.—Viz. what follows. Flesh and blood.—Cf. “flesh and bone,” Luke 24:39
(but very little beyond the historical fact can safely be made out from that verse). Doth not.—Present tense, another (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:46) broad, general principle, fixed and enduring, as true morally as physically.
1 Corinthians 15:51. Tell, rather than “show.” A mystery.—A fact hitherto kept a secret, but not necessarily inapprehensible when, as now in this case, it is disclosed.
1 Corinthians 15:52.—“By a process not like the slow corruption and decay of death, but sudden, rapid, Divine” (Stanley). “In the midst of this world’s busy life, and without any previous warning, Christ will lay His hand upon the wheels of time, and they will stop at once and for ever” (Beet). Trumpet.—Cf. Exodus 19:16; Psalms 47:5; Zechariah 9:14; Isaiah 27:13. Also 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:31 (Revelation 8-9 :), (Stanley). Or, perhaps, “He shall sound the trumpet”
1 Corinthians 15:53. Put on.—2 Corinthians 5:4; Isaiah 25:8 quoted.
1 Corinthians 15:55.—Hosea 13:14 quoted, or, more correctly, forms the mental starting-point of an (imitated) outburst of triumph. Hosea suggests, Paul sees (as it were) in prophetic prevision, a day of deliverance of the race from the power of death and Hades.
1 Corinthians 15:56.—As Romans 5:12-21 is a parallel in the experimental life to 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 in the physical, so Romans 7:7; Romans 8:4 is expository of this 1 Corinthians 15:56. [N.B.—This the earlier-written passage.] Sting.—Same word as goad (Acts [1 Corinthians 9:5] Acts 26:14).
1 Corinthians 15:58.—Observe “vain” again, and how “in the Lord” [“in Christ”] runs through the chapter. [“We look, not as theorists, but as believers, for a future life” (Isaac Taylor).]
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 15:35-58
I. Two categories appear:—
The First Adam—
The last Adam—
The first man.
The second Man.
Of the earth.
[The Lord (but note the better text).]
A living soul.
A quickening Spirit.
Bear the image of the earthy.
Bear … of the Heavenly.
Wear natural bodies.
Wear spiritual bodies.
Their bodies are correspondingly—
II. The second of these is not inconceivable, for
1. Death and dissolution form no “insuperable” barrier.—“You clever objectors—wonderfully clever!—how is it when you (emphatic) sow your seed? Are its death and dissolution an ‘insuperable’ barrier to the springing of the grain you hope to reap? This does not ‘prove’ the resurrection; but it is good enough to turn the edge of your objection. A reply as good as your difficulty. A reply just of the calibre of your thought, and of yourself.”
2. “ ‘What kind of bodies?’ How do I know? How can I tell? Can He Himself tell me, until I wear one, and my spirit finds its ‘spiritual body’ a vehicle congruous to its nature, flexible to its will, an instrument fitted for its every purpose? ‘Cannot conceive of such a body?’ What of that? If you were an intelligent fish, could you understand, think you, the body, the flesh, of a bird, or of a beast? Your experience and your imagination are not the measure of the possibilities, or even of the facts. Why not one more, one new, kind of material, where there are already so many used to make bodies? Do you really sweep the field, and know all that God can invent in variety of bodily organisations? See glory differing in kind from glory—celestial from terrestrial. See glory differing in degree from glory, as between star and star. ‘Cannot conceive with what kind of body?’ Perhaps the Maker of them all can, nevertheless. Better to wait and see what reserve of resource He has by Him. Cannot conceive does not equal Cannot be.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 15:50-54
“This corruptible,” “this mortal.”—These words raise the question of The Identity of the Resurrection Body.
Introduction.—The one point which is most distinctly the peculiarity of Christian teaching as to the future state is the Resurrection of the Body. The Identity the one question perpetually interesting to the great mass of hearers and readers of Christian doctrine in regard to the Resurrection. [Some oldest creeds said expressly, “Of the Flesh.” Christianity the only religion which takes serious account of the body, or does it any honour, or regards holiness as possible in connection with it.] All is pure matter of revelation. Pure question of faith: “we believe in the Resurrection of the Body.” Now that the truth has been announced, various natural analogies may be imagined and pressed into the service of it. But certainly they never suggested it; the chrysalis-butterfly fact, for example, barely gave an uncertain suggestion of another after-life for man, but not for his body. Reason never dreamed of this unaided; now that it is revealed, it puts a tax upon faith beyond what is demanded by most truths of Christianity. At the mention of it the Athenian gentlemen and scholars on Areopagus burst out laughing, and would give no serious attention to anything further.
I. Wherein the identity consists.—A very difficult question to determine.
1. Study the identity of the body with which we are familiar. Spite of all incessant and manifold physical changes, every man would say that he has “the same body” to-day which he had as a boy twenty, fifty, years ago. For
(1) There has been an unbroken continuity between stage and stage of its growth and change. The successive stages have overlapped; there has been what in brickwork is called “a bonding” of the successive stages; old material has always co-existed with new. At no point has the soul’s house been pulled down entirely and entirely rebuilt de novo. The cottage of boyhood has been altered and enlarged piecemeal into the mansion-sized house of manhood. Even if the material of the early stages has all disappeared, yet at no point has there ever been a distinctly “new house.” “Same house” all along. And
(2) The home of the same tenant all along. The organism has been in unbroken connection with the same indwelling Man. The continuous instrument of the same immaterial part.
(3) There has been a persistent form impressed upon it. Age, disease, accident, natural decay and recuperation, incessantly going on, have made great changes in size, height, etc. Yet many early marks, whether from birth or accident, have persisted through all stages. Something has remained unaltered or merely modified, which is peculiarly the man’s own. Like the man’s signature, the body has an individuality which perhaps, like it, expresses the man. Both change as the man changes, with years, and, to some extent visibly, in character. Seen most, this last, in the face. But the man has often had from the first a gait, a carriage, which has always been his own, individual and recognisable. [
(4) Analogies to these changes, and to the incessant motion and flux amongst constituent parts, whilst an identity of the whole remains unaffected, may be discovered. “New blade, new handle. Same knife?” may be trivial, and a quibble. But also: Perpetually renewed water in “the same river.” Constant change of the men in a regiment, by losses, retirements, recruiting, whilst the commanding officer remains the same, and in command of “the same regiment.” (Also the regimental “life” is continuous; the traditions, and the esprit de corps, keep up the regimental identity.) “The same Board,” “the same Body of trustees,” empowered to fill up vacancies in their number as they occur, till at last none of the original members remain.]
II. Considerations which require an identity of some kind.—
1. The whole man is redeemed. The body is an integral, indispensable part of manhood. A man is not made up of Soul and Spirit, to which the body is merely one of a number of vestments,—“coats,”—natural or artificial; it is not a mere accident of our earthly state. The Redeemer of Man wore, and took with Him into glory, an entire Humanity, its body with the rest. The body has its future, because it has its place in the redemption. It is the lowliest part of the threefold human nature; it waits longest for, and will receive last, its share in the glory secured for redeemed manhood in the eternal world; but it has its claim upon the Redeemer. On the body was set the Abrahamic form of the seal of that covenant between Jehovah and His “friend,” which is the surest basis of hope for Abraham’s immortality (Matthew 22:31-32, and || s). [There is a physical reception by the body of the seals and signs of the new, the Gospel, form of the same covenant and its contents of grace; the body is baptized with the physical element of water, it eats and drinks of a real supper of bread and wine.] The resurrection of an “identic body” is a necessary part of the greater fact of the resurrection and after-life of the whole man. To “raise” the same immaterial part and to provide it with a new body, would not be the restoration of the same man, the same person, after the dissolution wrought by death and the grave.
2. Christ’s identic resurrection body.—The great, palpable, popular stumbling-block and difficulty is no doubt the physical, chemical dissolution of the corpse into its primary elements, which again enter into new combinations in other organic structures. Christ’s body “saw no corruption.” The process which had set in, in the purely natural order, with His friend Lazarus, or with David (Acts 2:29-31), was not permitted to begin. He brought out of Joseph’s tomb a body which, whatever marvellous changes in the conditions of its life took place when it was reunited to Him in His risen life, was the same undissolved thing which had been reverently, lovingly deposited there on the Friday evening. In the body’s organised existence between death and resurrection there had been for Him no such break as death makes for us. Whatever, then, identity carries, and does not carry, in the case of His body, will be the facts about the identity of the resurrection body of His people. Further—
3. The “mystery,” the hitherto hidden and unknown fact, is here (1 Corinthians 15:51), authoritatively published by the Prophet Paul, that at the Lord’s coming the believers then living will be “changed” without previous death. [Or, as the speculations of some would require us to say, without any such perceptible or extended interval between the death and the “change” of the body as creates the popular, practical difficulty in connection with the raising of the bodies of the mass of human kind.] In their case, therefore, there is no break, even as brief as in their Lord’s case, in the continuity of the union between the same man and his physical part. In bodies which they have never quitted, but which undergo some transformation unknown as yet to us, they stand forth in that eventful Easter morning of the whole Church.
(3) enable, and require, us to expect that the believers who “fall asleep” in the ordinary course, and whose bodies are dissolved by death and “see corruption,” shall be put into the same condition as their brethren who are changed without dying, and with bodies like their Lord’s risen and glorified body. Whatever He and those are, without the parting of soul and body, or the physical dissolution of the body, to that they who die must be elevated or restored. In whatever sense He wears to-day “the same body” which trode the fields of Galilee or the streets of Jerusalem; in whatever sense the “changed” saints will wear “the same body” which they never for an instant lost; in that sense do we require that our Resurrection body shall be “the same body” which we wore on earth, and for a while left behind in the moment of our dying. It was part of our Self; the whole, same, redeemed self must be forthcoming, when “God brings, with Jesus, them that sleep in [through] Jesus” and are now somewhere a precious deposit in His safe keeping, “hid, with Christ, in God.” More than this we cannot with confidence assert. How much this carries with it we do not know, and have hardly sufficient experience of anything analogous to guide us even in conjecture. The meaning and mode of the “change” are quite unknown to us. Paul speaks of being “clothed upon” in 2 Corinthians 5:2, just as here he speaks of “putting on incorruption.” In Romans 8:11 he is express that “our mortal bodies”—like Christ’s mortal body—are to be quickened, as here he says “this mortal must put on.” But the mode is no clearer for all this. The fact, both of the change of some and of the resurrection of the body of most, is matter of revelation on God’s side and of faith on ours. The fact cannot be ruled out as “impossible.” “Christ is risen;” there is no intrinsic impossibility, therefore, to bar the way of belief. The connection between the second, “the last, Adam,” and the new, regenerate human race of which He is the Head, removes any intrinsic improbability; indeed it makes it probable that His people shall rise, in soul and body sharing with, conformed to, the conditions of His own risen life.
III. Difficulties in the way of belief of the “identity” of the buried and the risen body.—These are to a large extent occasioned by a faulty statement of the doctrine which is demanded and established as above. In the endeavour to grasp or to imagine the mode of the body’s resurrection, and, still more, to present the fact clearly and vividly to the ignorant, the young, the new convert, or the heathen, a crude, literal restoration of the same particles, and even of the same hair, nails, bones, etc., has been insisted on. But this was only the over-elaboration of popular rhetoric and of undisciplined imagination. [As to the difficulty presented on that theory in the case of a body eaten by a cannibal, whose body also must rise again, it would be only fair to say that there would be no absolute “unthinkableness” or “impossibility,” unless on the supposition that some or all of the particles composing one body at the moment of its death were also the components of another body at the moment of its death; so that they would be wanted at the resurrection for the restoration and completion of two bodies at the same time. An eventuality against which, if He were pleased to make that one of the conditions of the resurrection, He could guard. It was a fair reply to say, “He can do whatever He wills, and whatever He says He will do.” But the underlying supposition which occasioned the objection was extreme in statement. N.B.—The cannibals of Fiji never found the “cannibal” argument an insuperable barrier to belief in a bodily resurrection. “What does God say He will do? That He can and will do.”]
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 15:55-58
Triumph; Theology; Duty.
I. Does that seem a descending series, with a step yet lower to 1 Corinthians 16:1, “the collection”? If it be the stone-like drop of the lark, after her soaring, singing, jubilant ascent into an upper world of light and freedom, it has nevertheless her justification; she drops to her nest, her young, her motherly duty. No surer sign of a healthy spiritual life than the simple, easy, natural transition from level to level of thought and talk. Such a life indeed lifts all up to the spiritual level. In the Great House of the soul’s Life, it does not go downstairs, from the Chapel to the Study, or to the Dining-room or the Kitchen. These, it may be, are less stately and less richly adorned than that; but the soul passes from one to the other all on the same floor.
II. The connection between Triumph and a true Theology on the one side, and between a true Theology and Duty on the other, is very close, “Faith” lies very near to “The Faith.” Religion and dogma are very intimately connected. If religion be the Art of holy living, then is theology its Science. Theology is only the orderly statement of the facts and truths presupposed, whether in the hopes and joys, or in the duty and service, of religion. [Newton said he liked his Calvinism as he liked his sugar in his tea—in solution. Most men’s “ism” is to-day in solution in their teaching; and always was very much in solution in the thought of the bulk of Christian people. But Newton’s “sugar” distinctly “flavoured his tea”; it was unmistakably there, to anybody who knew the taste. Perhaps could have been extracted, weighed, exhibited in separate, orderly, crystalline form.] If, for instance, an earnest man is accustomed, as the very foundation of much of his religious life, to address himself in prayer to Christ, let him be asked and helped to express, in precise and ordered language, how he supposes that this “Christ” can hear his words and, much more, his unuttered thoughts; also, supposing that He can hear, how, and how far, he expects that Christ can help him in answer to his appeal; when he says at the end of his praying to the Father “for Christ’s sake,” what relation there is between Christ and the Father, and between Christ and himself, that “for Christ’s sake” should be a plea and a reason with God;—the answers will be a very important contribution to a Christology, whether a new one of his own or that of some other man or of some Church. Indeed, to answer Christ’s own question fully and precisely, “Whose Son is Christ?” goes down to some of the obscurest depths of Divine thought. Every saved sinner has an informal, unformulated, working “theory of the Atonement,” according to which he has laid hold of salvation; just as every preacher or Sunday-school teacher has an unformulated “theory of Inspiration,” which determines his treatment of the Word of God, and even his selection of texts. So here the shout of triumph will be thin and hollow, as the dying saint says, “O death, … thy victory?… thy sting?” if he have any misgiving whether, after all, death is not going to be the conqueror; whether, after all, he is not still “in his sins”; whether, after all, his Christ be not a mere great name of the past, the name of a man who long centuries ago yielded to death just as others do, and left His body to dissolve into dust, like other bodies.
III. So a right or wrong Theology will affect Duty.—(Discussed in part under 1 Corinthians 15:32; here needs only to be added:) No doubt as matter of high-level, theoretic virtue, men “ought” to be righteous and diligent and all that is good, for the very intrinsic rightness and betterness and nobleness of Good. So the children at school “ought” to do their lessons well for the reason that it is right, and duty, and the like; prizes or no prizes, they “ought” to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in their work. But the prizes, if illogical as a motive, and indefensible, are a very practical incentive to diligence, and a very real help to even a diligent scholar, when the lessons are hard and the play is tempting. God knows His scholars in the High School of life; and, grown men and women though they be, it will make a difference to them whether or not there are to be any marks and any rewards. He knows that average men and women will not go on year after year pitching the fruit of their labour into a moral Chat Moss, unless like George Stephenson they have the confident assurance that there is a bottom, and that by and-by there will be some solid result to show for their patient toil. They will, like the engineers of a Portland Breakwater, be content to see load after load of solid “labour” disappear beneath the surface of the ocean, if they too may hope that some day their toil will appear in solid result above the waters, none really lost. It is of the very essence of death’s “enmity” (1 Corinthians 15:26) that it cuts off abruptly, inopportunely, often disastrously, the plans and labour and hope of the man who is only “of the world,” and whose aims and desires go no further than the horizon whose radius is the thirty, forty, fifty years which may happen to be the probable remainder of his earthly sojourn. The Christian man has “hoped” that “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:19) death will only help forward the attainment of all his hopes and bring him a stage nearer to the fulfilment of the new and larger meaning he now sees in “Life,” besides putting him into more favourable conditions than were possible here for both growth and service. But if death is going to break off in mid-course all his plans also, and to frustrate all his hopes and purposes as it does those of the worldling; if he is going to find the first moment of eternity the first also of an eternal disillusion; or, worst of all, if Eternity is to be nothing, because he passes away into Nothing himself, and there is for him neither resurrection nor after-life,—well, then “the game is not worth the candle.” Who will “after the manner of men” fight with the beasts? Who will in ascetic gloom refuse to “eat and drink”? Why should not he take such pleasure as it is, seeing there is nothing better? Nothing at all at the end of all! Romans 7:13-24; Romans 7:7-12, are our 1 Corinthians 15:56 in résumé. Plant 1 Corinthians 15:56 in mind and heart; let prayer bring upon it the quickening Spirit; let experience develop and record the living germ of truth; it will grow into Romans 7:7-24. Death has no “sting” unless it borrow one from a guilty conscience. Sin finds its condemnation, and its provocation, in a positive commandment. “In Christ” death is only dying, and behind dying there is no proper death. “In Christ” the heart runs in the way of the commandment; it no longer conflicts with it, only to its own hurt and condemnation. And “labour in Christ” is the labour of Christ Himself in His member. It is really His own “labour.” How can His labour be “in vain”?
1 Corinthians 15:38. “God giveth it a body.”
Introduction.—In regard to the special topic discussed in this chapter, this remark of Paul lifts the believer over the stumbling-block of the “How?” by referring him to one of the twin bases upon which the Saviour, more than a quarter of a century before, had set the doctrine of the Resurrection in His memorable discussion with the Sadducee scoffers of His day. “Ye do err,” He had said, “not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God,” i.e. His power makes it certain that He can, if He will, raise the dead. [It is not a thing incredible that God—God—should raise the dead (Acts 24:8).] And the Scriptures make it certain that He wills to do it (Matthew 22:29). All preliminary talk about “impossibility” is swept away so soon as in any real, operative sense God is taken account of; and any further question as to fact or probability is met if there is a positive declaration which is unquestionably from His mouth. But the words are suggestive of what belongs to a much wider field of discussion. To a Christian Theist it is as true of the universal natural order as of the spiritual, that “in all God is all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
I. God gave man his present body.—The little child learns to say its catechism: “Q. Who made you? A. God made me.” And all he may afterwards learn of the physical processes of nature need not take the child’s answer out of the man’s mouth. Creationism or Traducianism, apart, as far as regards the immaterial element in us, it very soon becomes matter of obvious knowledge that a man’s body is no absolutely new beginning, no thing de novo fashioned and moulded by any literal “hand” or “fingers” of God; but that, on the other hand, there are many intermediate physical links of successive or predecessive generations of parentage between any individual of the race to-day and the body of “the first Adam.” If a man’s special line of study makes him acquainted with the minutiœ of the physiological processes between the primal cell and the new-born infant, if he come to know how very closely many of the earlier stages mimic or are allied to those of the starting into growth in the case of a vegetable germ; yet all his added detail of knowledge has made it no more difficult for him to say “God made me” than it is for the grown child or the man who merely sees, as far as all see, the physical organisation of the parents interposed between God the Creator and the new product of His power. What difficulty exists is to both men the same in kind. Merely to be able to follow the intervening links of the process into fuller detail, to be permitted to follow the Great Worker into the inner secrecy of His workshop, and understand better how exceedingly complex and beautiful are the methods He follows, is not to alter the nature of the question at all. It is merely breaking up the one obvious physical link into many, very many; but to see the simple fact that our parents have “given us” our body is as great or as little a difficulty, or as completely no difficulty at all, in the way of saying “God made me,” as to see the manifold, multiplied details and physical instruments of the Great Maker’s work. And so, too, if all that is claimed for what is popularly called “Evolution” were demonstrated; if the order of developed scheme and idea which it is manifestly possible to arrange out of the multiform creatures of earth’s geological and historical ages, an order leading up to, and at every stage more and more frequently suggesting, Man,—if this were demonstrably physically and historically a genealogical succession; if thus between the first living thing and his body of to-day the Christian man of science interposed an unbroken chain of physical antecedents and consequents, not even interrupted at an “Adam” of a “Genesis”;—he would still with full intelligence and reasonableness reply to his catechist, “God made me.” He again would know that his fuller acquaintance with the details of the process, and his belief that there had been no interposition of the power of God, de novo and ab extra, in the physical succession since the first living cell was endowed with Life, had made no difference in the essential shape of the question. The first modification from the simplicity of the child’s idea of a direct and immediate “making” by God to the necessary knowledge that the “making” had been mediate through human parentage, is the only modification in kind; all else is matter of completeness of understanding the mediating term. Between the Maker and the product there is more elaborate machinery; the thing is not so simply and directly “hand-made” as the little child supposed; but that is all. “God gave me my body: God made Me.” This leads further afield.
II. God is active, operative, everywhere, always in His creation.—“My Father worketh hitherto,” said the Son of God, in vindication of His own beneficent Sabbath labour. “Why should not men let healing alone on the Sabbath, and neither the patients come, nor the physician attend to them if they do come? Why not? Why should not I cease such work on the Sabbath? Because my Father does not. The healing of a woman, or the setting of a bone, or the growth of a body, does not cease on the Sabbath, and in all the ‘natural processes’ which are thus ceaselessly and continuously proceeding, He is at work. They are full of God. They are God at work, Sabbath and weekday.” And the Christian takes his view of God in Nature from His Master. [He does not shut Him out of history. He does not believe that when Bible history was completed, and the lives of Bible saints were ended, God ceased to work altogether, or to work as really and effectively in the history and the lives of our times. He uses the specimen cases of the Bible, authentically opened up and expounded, to show him how to believe in, and to look for, and to see, God in his own life, or in the history of which each morning’s newspaper is the latest chapter of continuation. “Worketh hitherto.”] The mind and heart of man can never be permanently satisfied, under normal conditions, to think of the glorious kingdom of the visible universe as without a throne or a Monarch, or with only an absentee or indifferent one; it postulates a Father and Head for such a family and such a home. It wants God near. The many shades and phases of Pantheistic thought find their charm and their strength in the answer to this demand. But they overdo it, and bring Him too near, confounding and identifying Work and Worker in one undistinguishable Subsistence. The phrase, at any rate, of another school, which spoke of an Anima Mundi, a Soul of the World, was nearer the truth, imperfect as all creaturely and human analogies must be. The Christian thinker does not confound his soul with his body. He can only speak of either in negations of the other; but he knows them distinct. And he asks himself whether all this great, this vast, physical frame of things stands in any similar relation to God as his own physical part does to his thinking, feeling, willing part. The only force of which he knows anything directly and really is will force, the force of his own will; and though the midmost meeting-place and link of connection between mind and body is veiled from him under thickest darkness, yet he knows how Will in him wields, and moves, and can mould, his physical part, and through it the physical around him. And then he asks whether he can say or think anything truer or wiser, or at any rate more probable, than that the One Will wields and moulds and moves all this vast physical frame of things, and that all the “forces” which we count and calculate and measure and use are but many variations of the putting forth of the One Force, that of the Will of Him who long ago made the matter of His universe, and from that time to this has never taken His hand off the thing He made. In the case studied above, suggested by Paul, he does not conceive that he is really any farther away from God because he sees the thing “machine-made” rather than directly “hand-made.” His Father “Who worketh hitherto” designed the machine, and made it, and works it, and has His hand upon it at every intermediate point between Himself and what He produces by it. The “design argument” loses none of its force to him, if even he should think that “natural selection” or any other combination of physical forces proves to be the method by which the Designer has effected His purpose. The Design is there. The “natural” is of God as really as the “supernatural”; the “miraculous” is the special for the purpose of Revelation; the “natural” is the ordinary, orderly method by which He chooses to proceed in Creation and Providence. If the Idea of Creation gets a physical embodiment, it is because “God giveth it a body, as it hath pleased Him.”
III. God gave Adam a body.—Did even the early Italian painters, of the simplest ages of faith, really believe literally in the grand, bearded, old-man-like Creator Whom they represented bending over a newly made body moulded with His literal fingers out of dust? After the days of his childhood, no simplest, most old-fashioned believer in a distinct creation of Adam’s body ever so conceived of it. They knew and believed that “no man hath seen or can see” God. Even they, believing in a direct and immediate new beginning with the body of “the first Adam,” did not seriously and literally think that if they had been present at its formation their eyes would have beheld any visible Modeller, with literal hands shaping “the dust of the earth.” If they had at all pursued the matter so far, they would at most have expected to see a body growing into shape before them, in similar fashion to that so vividly described by Huxley. “Of all the perennial miracles [Nature] offers to the student’s inspection, perhaps the most worthy of admiration is the development of a plant or of an animal from its embryo. Examine the recently laid egg of some common animal, such as a salamander or a newt. It is a minute spheroid in which the best microscope will reveal nothing but a structureless sac, enclosing a glairy fluid, holding granules in suspension. But … let a moderate supply of warmth reach its watery cradle, and the plastic matter undergoes changes so rapid, and yet so steady and so purposelike in their succession, that one can only compare them to those operated by a skilled modeller upon a formless lump of clay. As with an invisible trowel, the mass is divided and subdivided into smaller and smaller portions, until it is reduced to an aggregation of granules not too large to build withal the finest fabrics of the nascent organism. And then, it is as if a delicate finger traced out the line to be occupied by the spinal column, and moulded the contour of the body; pinching up the head at one end, the tail at the other, and fashioning flank and limb into due salamandrine proportions, in so artistic a way that, after watching the process hour by hour, one is almost involuntarily possessed with the notion, that some more subtle aid to vision than an achromatic, would show the hidden artist, with his plan before him, striving with skilful manipulation to perfect his work.” (Huxley, Lay Sermons, 260, 261.) The Christian scientific observer believes that under the lens of his microscope he actually is beholding Creative Power and Will mysteriously meeting, touching, moulding, Matter. God is there giving the salamander a body.
IV. God giveth the risen man His body.—We thus return to our starting-point. There is no real difficulty in the question, “How can the dead—the dead, the dead! do you see them?—be raised? With what (kind of) body do they come from their grave?” That they will come forth—all of them, and not only those “in Christ”—is for His disciples conclusively settled by one word of the Master. They “know this Scripture” (John 5:28-29) [where “in the graves” is in very precise and defining contrast with “the dead” of “the hour that now is” in 1 Corinthians 15:25]. “How?” What need to ask “how”? The closest students have not exhausted yet the whole range of the variety of His methods, nor seen any suggestion of a limit to many and startlingly novel possibilities of new methods, or of new exertions of the old, the one, power. As He gave the buried body, so He must, and will, give the raised-up body. Whether working on His accustomed lines or in His sovereign freedom and mastery striking out new ones for Himself, it is but the One Worker. And as there has never yet arisen a demand for which He has not made adequate provision, so for the new demand of the new life, and the new environment of the new world, He may either make a new thing altogether, or modify the old thing and the old type, “as it pleases Him.” That is all that can be said. To the intellect or the heart which does not know our God that is to say nothing. To the intellect that acknowledges Him, and to the heart that believes in and loves Him, that is enough. “God giveth” to the seeds of His human sowing “their body,” “their own,” appropriate “(kind of) body,” “spiritual bodies” for spiritual men, who are to dwell in a spiritual world, for ever one with Him who “was made a quickening Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 15:26. The Sub-final Act in the Drama of Human History.
I. “The last enemy” met and subdued by—
II. “The last Adam.”—Sentence of deposition was long ago passed against the usurping power. [Cf. John 12:31; couple with it the Temptation in the Wilderness; and Luke 10:18.] It has struggled to keep its hold on the race; but every soul “fallen asleep,” “not seeing death,” has been a blow to its prestige, a defeat in detail. Now Death shall never seize another individual of the race; this shall no longer be a mortal stock. The other Death—the only real “Death”—shall still hold its captives, and shall hold them eternally, for there shall be no more dying hence forward.
1 Corinthians 15:31. “I die daily.”
I. Physically.—From the first moment of life we begin to die. For thirty or forty years the forces which make for life and recuperation outweigh and hold in check the forces which make for waste, decay, death. But after that point the balance turns against life; life fights a losing battle. Dying daily, dying from the first, we die at last.
II. Voluntarily.—For Christ’s sake Paul held life as not worth more than a day’s purchase. “Always bearing about the dying,” etc. (2 Corinthians 4:10; observe the forcible Greek word).
III. Experimentally.—Galatians 6:14. What does the world matter to a crucified man hanging there in death? It can do no more for him; he cares no more for it.
IV. Believingly.—In hope of a better life.—Suggested by J. L.
1 Corinthians 15:31-32. “When will you die?”
I. The ignoble life says, “Tomorrow we die!”—This is the reckless temper which makes men take their full fling of riot and carouse, when the city is swept with the plague [Athens, London]; or when the enemy is at the gate [Babylon (Daniel 5:0), Jerusalem beleaguered by the Assyrians (the original of this quotation, Isaiah 22:13)]; the carouse and gambling in the condemned cell on the morning of the execution. “We die to-morrow; so ‘go it’ to-day!” Or at best the temper which adjourns unpleasant things till “to-morrow.” The characteristic word of the Spaniard is Man̄ana, “to-morrow.” The “natural” heart in man says “To-morrow” in regard to the claims of Christ (Acts 24:25), to difficult duties, to preparation for death. It shirks the irksome, the serious, the religious. “We must die; then let it be to-morrow.”
II. The noble life says, “I die daily—to-day.—The nobler type, even in regard to natural character and to secular matters, faces at once the un-pleasing, the difficult, the obligatory; to “shunt” things into to-morrow’s “siding” is no manly discharge of today’s life-work. There are Christian “shufflers” as well as secular; or “happy-go-lucky” souls, who never fully face the Cross in their religious life. Souls like Paul—and he is like the Master—“take up their cross daily.” When the hardest, sorest trial to nature is thus met and dealt with, character has then gained in manliness and strength. There is a subtle paralysis in having a vague terror in the background, or an unfulfilled, outstanding obligation hanging over one’s head. How many lives are noble because of a daily crucifixion of self and of all evil! None but their Crucified Lord knows how keen is the anguish as they hang upon the daily Cross within, for His sake. Themselves driving in the nails, waking every morning to the Cross they find prepared for them, which they accepted long ago. “Mortify your members,” etc. (Colossians 3:5). [Also observe how Paul almost ventures to parallel with that of Christ his own daily dying in its effects to others. “Bearing about … the dying … in order that the life … in you.”]
1 Corinthians 15:32. “What advantageth, it met?”
I. Seeing that the dead do rise, then what advantageth it? Principally there is a future life for me. For this stands or falls with the resurrection of the dead. So then, as Dean Alford said, in a letter printed in his Life: “When we have one moment said ‘Good night!’ here, the next we shall be met with the welcome, ‘Good morning!’ ” Then (as 1 Corinthians 15:58) I do not labour or suffer with the paralysing fear that all my labour is “putting money into a bag with holes,” “grinding the wind,” “ploughing upon the rock,” or whatever be the illustration of useless, fruitless labour.
1. If the dead do not rise [though for the moment, in “most miserable,” and “Let us eat and drink,” Paul may adopt the tone, and speak with the verdict, of mere natural men, careless or desperate, yet even he would say, “Profitable for the life that now is”], if virtue is better than vice, benevolence than selfishness, truth than falsehood, then there is yet, as even a few noble heathen felt, still an advantage.
2. But this will not stand the “hard wear” of the world, of the poor, or tempted, or evil-disposed. A man soon sinks below the level where there is any advantage in being righteous for its own sake. He may easily sink low enough to escape the scourge of conscience, and to enjoy the “eating and drinking” of the sensuous, sensual life.
3. Yet if our faith be a delusion, it is one that serves well the purposes of life. Faith in God and Immortality and a Saviour has wrought, as nothing else has done, for thousands whom nothing else would have touched, peace of conscience, righteousness of life, confidence in face of the future, victory over fear of death.
1. “Try our way, sinner!”
2. “Try your way, sinner? No. Listen to another ‘What advantageth?’ (Luke 9:25).” [Loyola won Xavier, the teacher of philosophy at Paris, by an incessant repetition of his question, “What shall it profit a mam?” etc. Threw himself into his every pursuit; into disputations, into amusements; accommodated himself to every merriest mood; went with him for long walks; and every conversation led up to the refrain, “What shall it profit?” etc. Xavier lost his money and his pupils by his self-indulgence and folly. Loyola regained for him pupils and popularity, and came back amidst all the applause and excitement with his burden, “What shall it profit?” Again Xavier squandered all. Loyola begged for him, and brought him a purse, and again pressed his question, “What shall it profit a man?” Read this fully, and the account of Xavier’s death on the shores of China, in Stephen, Eccles. Biogr. “If the dead rise not,” what did it all advantage Xavier?]