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1 Corinthians 15:12-34 - Homilies By C. Lipscomb

Denying the resurrection from the dead, and what the denial involves.

Some of these Corinthian Christians denied that there would be a literal resurrection. They understood little or nothing of the idea of the body, of its uses intellectually and morally regarded, and of its partnership with the soul in all that concerned present probation and future reward. What had Grecian philosophy taught them? That the body was the seat of evil. What had Grecian art taught them? To admire the body for sensuous purposes as a gratification to aesthetic tastes. And what had idolatrous worships shown them? The body degraded to the lowest vileness. Yet, indeed, Christianity had assured them that the body was "the temple of the Holy Ghost," and, no doubt, St. Paul in his former preaching had instructed them in the sanctity of the body, "according to the Scriptures." But here they were explaining away the doctrine, and entirely unaware of what they were doing. "It was not materialism, but an ultra-spiritualism, which led the Corinthians into error" (F. W. Robertson). "Fascinated, perhaps, by its plausible appearance of spirituality, glad to get rid of the offence of a carnal and material immortality, and fain to take refuge in the more refined idea of the soul's recovered independence of the body here, and its entire emancipation from the body hereafter" (Dr. Candlish). Whatever the influences at work upon their minds, the results were obvious to St. Paul. And to convince them of what a fatal error they had fallen into if their disbelief were logically carried out into its consequences, he proceeds to inquire of them how it was that Christ could be preached among them as One risen from the dead, if there were no general resurrection. What consistency was there in believing that the Lord of humanity had risen, Lord of its body no less than of its soul, and yet this humanity in the race must be dislocated, body and soul sundered forever, and soul alone be the survivor of death? This is the starting point, Christ the Representative, the federal Head, the Image of humanity as well as the Image of God. If there be no general resurrection, "then is Christ not risen." The argument is from a broad, universal principle to a particular case under that principle, the former being the resurrection of man, and the latter that of the Son of man. By legitimate inference, therefore, supposing there were no resurrection for man, Christ was still in his grave. "Christ not risen!" What follows? Apostolic "preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain." This is pressing the matter home with startling energy. But how could the logical consequence be otherwise? Christ Jesus, Son of God, had assumed man's physical nature, had been born of a woman, had eaten and drunk and grown like other men, had conformed to the laws of human corporeity, had been "made under the law" of providence, and taken all its requirements upon himself; and hence, if "made like unto his brethren," he rose from the dead just as he had been incarnated, under the general law of humanity. From the beginning to the end, no break occurred in his career; it was human throughout, and just as human when he rose from the grave as when born of the Virgin Mary. To be sure, a glory beyond the human was in him and around him—the glory of the eternal Sonship—but the human was never lost or swallowed up, never even obscured, by the mysterious awe of the Divine investing him. In this view of the matter, Christ rose because he was a man among men, and by virtue of a law which found in him its highest manifestation, just as all other laws of humanity had realized in him their sublimest expression. But what of our preaching as apostles? If he has not risen (risen he cannot be unless there is a general resurrection), then "we are found false witnesses of God." Nothing else but false witnesses, "because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." Deluded men we cannot be; victims of excited and overwrought senses; innocent enthusiasts;—all this is impossible; and we are downright deceivers. Is this credible? Go back and read the roll of testifiers: St. Peter and the twelve, the outstanding fact of their testimony being Jesus and the resurrection; then the five hundred brethren, next St. James, and I myself. Can you Corinthians believe a thing as absurd as this, that we are all false witnesses? So much for apostolical preaching. He had put their preaching as apostles and the faith of these Corinthians in the same category; they were each "vain," that is, "empty, groundless, unreal" (Kling). Now, then, he urges that if there be no resurrection, "Christ is not raised." If Christ be not risen, what object has your faith? To believe in his atoning death, you must believe in the necessary sequel and counterpart of that death, his resurrection, since the two facts are inseparably united. Admit his death, deny his resurrection, and "ye are yet in your sins." Is this credible? On the hypothesis of no literal resurrection, three things up to this point of the argument have been made clear, viz. Christ's death was in vain, apostolic preaching of Christ crucified was in vain, and Christian faith was in vain. What a new Ecclesiastes is here! "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." But was this all? If a denial of man's resurrection necessitated the rejection of Christ's resurrection; if the loss of his resurrection swept away his atonement, seeing that there was no proof of its validity, and hence no assurance of pardon and peace; if the nullification of the atonement destroyed the value of preaching and the worth of believing;—could there be any addition to the amount and quality of these dreadful consequences? Yes; the train of evils following this new doctrine of no resurrection was lengthened out still further; for "they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." All departed Christians are lost. There is no heaven for them, and the touching words, "fallen asleep in Jesus," are mocking rhetoric. Again, the thought recurs— Was this credible? Another vanity must be superadded: affection for the departed, the tenderest and holiest of all human feelings, that which perfects the love unable to obtain its complete growth while the object lived to the eyes and was clasped in the arms; this most beautiful and noble affection is idle sentimentality, for they have "perished." At this point something more than logical reasoning is involved. The deepest instinct of the soul in its human relationships is in issue. Is this instinct a cheat, a falsehood? We, the apostles and the five hundred brethren, are not the only "false witnesses," but your nature, the very core of your nature, is a deceit and mockery. You have lost your Christ and his apostles, lost your faith, lost your friends. Nothing precious is left; you dare not trust your firmest instincts. "Most miserable!" Could there be a greater torture? "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." The hope of being with him hereafter, of seeing and enjoying him, of becoming more and more like him,—this is our heaven of anticipation; the crown is "a crown of righteousness;" the eternal reward is nearer and fuller communion with him. But this hope is all vain. Himself uncrowned, himself left to the dishonour of the grave, what can Christ be to you and what relief afford you—you of all men most wretched? Other men resign themselves to their dreams of earthly joys, seek the pleasures of sense and find them, fall down and worship Satan and get their kingdoms of power and wealth and passion. These you have denied yourselves and put far from your pursuits. Heaven has been enough for you. But lo! this heaven is a vain hope, a fleeting creature of fancy, and you are the victims of a supreme folly, the lowest on earth in hopeless misery. This mournful picture is not allowed to detain the eye, for St. Paul immediately says (verse 20), "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." There is the fact of his resurrection; there is also the doctrinal import of the truth with respect to believers; so that after showing the absurdity of the opposite view, be now lays down a positive assertion in conformity with the first stage of his argument. Christ has risen, but in what character and relation? The answer is, "The Firstfruits of them that slept." A vast harvest is in the future, and he is the Firstfruits. Was not the first sheaf a specimen of the matured field, a thank offering to the God of providence, a pledge of the full ingathering? In all things he was to have "pre-eminence," and consequently in this, that he was "the first begotten of the dead." Previous resurrections had occurred, but in no sense were they "firstfruits," since no representative or mediatorial character appertained to them, nor did they involve the idea of a Divine covenant. The significance of Christ's return to life is that, having been "reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." The specialty of his vicarious sacrifice gives specialty to his resurrection, which is the beginning of his exaltation to be a Prince and a Saviour, "for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." And in this, humanity appears historically no less than prospectively: "Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." It is, in each instance, a race fact he is contemplating, and he sees the race as existing in the natural headship of Adam and in the spiritual headship of Christ. "As in Adam all die" a natural death, "even so in Christ shall all be made alive"—restored to existence as it consists in the union of soul and body. Further on, St. Paul specializes the difference between Adam and Christ; here and in the context, it is the similarity of attitude towards the human family which he presents. To see the unlikeness, we must first see the resemblance, and, accordingly, he institutes a parallel between the two, Adam and Christ, as preparatory to the divergence which he introduces when discussing other aspects of the resurrection. The union of body and soul, by which human nature is constituted, belongs in itself to the natural order of the universe, and therefore offers a common platform on which Adam and Christ alike stand, the one as causing death, the other as the restorer of life forfeited. St. Paul never loses sight of nature and natural order. Everything that he says of Christianity either asserts or implies something back of Christianity. If, as often happens, he describes it as a scheme of restoration, there is always an original system, vast in reach and compass, to which it is subordinate. And if, as frequently occurs, he is showing that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," reference is still had to a primary or normal condition as having been transcended by substituting a higher for a lower form of life. In congruity with this habitual method of thought, fundamental to all his other habits of mind, and without

which he could not have been the thinker he was, he traces here the resemblance of Adam and Christ in their respective headships of the human family. But has Christ such an identification with our race as to put his resurrection, time and circumstances considered, on a level with our rising from the dead? No; he stands alone. "Every man in his own order." There is an order, a rank, a succession, and the headship of Christ is attested as before in the figure of the "firstfruits." "Afterward they that are Christ's at his coming;" the long interval between the first and second coming of Christ illustrating his majesty as the risen Lord, and ripening a harvest worthy of him as the "firstfruits." If, then, the ages are to witness the success of his power as "a Prince and a Saviour," and if the final demonstration of his glory as exalted to the right hand of his Father be reserved for the resurrection of his saints and its attendant events, this result must be of the nature of a consummation. Viewed as a system within a system, it must be limited by conditions, must have instruments and agencies, must have various adjustments of means to ends, and the ends in turn accommodated to ulterior purposes, all which go forward to an era of grandeur. A perpetual scheme of this kind is inconceivable. It involves the trial of certain definite and clearly announced principles, the coworking of God and man, the test operation of peculiar motives and sentiments; in brief, the idea of probation in the most educative and august shape it could assume. Are we the only learners in this school? Worlds have brotherhood as well as men, and the network, too delicate for any eye to see all the filaments even here, is spread over spaces unmeasured by the visible firmament. It is a mediatorial economy under which we live, nor can any reader of the New Testament doubt that the universe is affected in some way, though the manner and extent are mysteries, by this mediatorial rule. Inasmuch, then, as it is mediatorial, this system cannot be permanent, and hence "every man in his own order" presents the conception of a successional development, which must, at some period, reach its crisis and pass away. "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power." What is it that shall terminate? The previous verses (20-23) throw some light on this subject. Humanity is represented therein as to its contrasted forms, and these forms are Adam and Christ. Contrast is our chief mode of knowing objects in this world, and we are unceasingly dependent on its activity. It is a mark, however, of the weakness of our faculties and the limited sphere in which they are confined. Now, these contrasted forms of humanity as embodied in Adam and Christ shall vanish away, because they belong to our knowing "in part" and are only disciplinary for that "which is perfect." All the conflict between our nature in Adam and our nature in Christ having ended, and its connections with preternatural agents having come to a close, and that close triumphant on the side of the Lord Jesus, every sign of this sort of rule, authority, and power, shall disappear from the universe. We may venture to suggest that some hint of this is given in the forty days. The posthumous life of the risen Christ has dropped off the outward marks of its former rule, authority and power. No discussions are held with scribes and Pharisees; no snares are laid to entangle him; no repelling on his part the charges of sabbath breaking, confederation with Beelzebub, and blasphemy in claiming to be the Son of God; but the battle has closed, and the Victor fresh from the grave is victor over Sanhedrim and Herod and Pilate, and henceforth the Holy Spirit orders the struggle between the forces of good and evil. But on a far wider arena, and with an infinitely grander display of majesty, will the Lord Jesus Christ consummate his victory over earth and hell when he resigns to God the Father his delegated sovereignty as the Mediator. As in the forty days no winds and waters were to be stilled, no demoniac crossed his path to call forth his power, no exertion made in the exercise of authority and rule over those inimical to his divinity, but conflict was swallowed up in conquest; so now, the end having been attained of mediatorial government and all opposition put down, what befits him so royally as to resume the ancient characteristics of his Sonship as the second Person in the holy Trinity and take the glory of eternal ages back, long ago resigned, to his bosom? Does this require that his humanity shall be laid aside? By no means. Turn again to the forty days. Humanity then manifested in him a semi-glorified state. Over time and space he was conqueror, nor was he amenable to any law of flesh and blood, but enjoyed the immunities of a "spiritual body." Yet, notwithstanding, he was most human, and in his voice the old tones were tenderer and sweeter, so that Mary knew him when he spoke her name, and in his manner there was a more precious condescension, which St. Thomas felt when he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God." The human body as it goes downward towards the brutes loses its native properties as the companion of the soul. The human body as it goes upward towards God increases its capacity to enshrine and show forth the spirit. What limit exists to this capacity, we know not. But we may well believe that Christ's humanity, though the Mediatorship cease to exist, will be associated forever with his Sonship. And under what conditions shall this termination of the Mediatorship occur? When the "last enemy shall be destroyed." And that enemy is death. This closes the protracted warfare. It began with his victory over the grave, it ends with his triumph over all graves. " Death itself there dies." By the subjection of the Son to the Father, we understand, then, that it is the incarnate Son who is thus subordinated, and that this interferes in no way with the human relation sustained to his people. Less than Son of man he can never be, any more than less than Son of God. But just as his semi-glorified state during the forty days endeared him all the more to the disciples, and that too while they felt him removed from the old forms of social contact, so this last and most resplendent display of Christ's Godhead will elevate the humanity of his saints into a fuller assimilation to himself. The new distance will be only a new nearness, for God shall be "all in all." The next verse (verse 29) introduces an abrupt change: "Else ['since' or, 'again'] what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?" Various interpretations have been put on this obscure passage, none of them free from difficulties. "Posthumous baptism by proxy," or the baptism of a living person for a friend who had died unbaptized; baptism in the sense of "being immersed in sufferings;" or, again, as signifying "a vicarious occupancy of the position once filled by a deceased person;" or, once more, as applied to all believers,—are the leading explanations offered. Whatever the meaning is of being "baptized for the dead"—whether it was a superstitious custom which had sprung up in the Church and was condemned by the apostle, or, the ordinary and proper use of this sacrament—it is not necessary for us to determine in order to see its connection with the argument. In any view of the matter, baptism was an unmeaning thing, if there were no resurrection. Solemnize it as they might, practise it with reference to the affectionate memories of the dead, administer the holy rite altogether with respect to the living, but, nevertheless, the living and the dead were in the same category, unless there were a resurrection. Why are we risking so much by our baptism as a profession of Christian faith? Why this useless and irrational "jeopardy"? Plainly enough, jeopardy has a Divine meaning for the living—a meaning, too, that every grave illustrates and enforces, if baptism is a sacrament—and, unquestionably, we do well to incur the risks, provided there be a general resurrection. But the dead body, what of that? And the living body, what of this? I write to you, Corinthians, of no disembodied existence. I write of no immortality of spirit as spirit. I have nothing to do with that. Baptism has nothing to do with that; our memory of the dead is no abstract memory of their souls, but of body and spirit as forming their human nature. And now, if baptism recognize the union of body and spirit, and symbolize the redeemed sanctity of each, there is good reason for jeopardy; otherwise none at all. By his love for this Church, by his joy in its members, he protests that his own jeopardy is so great as to warrant the statement, "I die daily." Outward circumstances beset him with so many perils and the inward pressure was so heavy and constant, as that he suffered like a dying man, day by day. To particularize; if (metaphorically) he had "fought with beasts at Ephesus," what advantage was it if the dead rise not? Was he facing all these terrible risks, hour by hour, to preach a gospel that left Christ imprisoned in the sealed grave of the Sanhedrim, and that it was vain to preach and vain to believe, and that made baptism a nullity? Was it for this that he underwent so much distress? "Let us eat and drink." If the body has no part or lot in the grace of Christ, and has no future, let us make the most of its enjoyments in the present life. "Tomorrow we die." No punishment can be inflicted on the body hereafter, since it has no hereafter; "Let us eat and drink." And yet beware; deception is always possible, and deception is certain in this instance. "Evil communications corrupt good manners;" so that poet and apostle, Menander and St. Paul, are at one as it respects association and intercourse, and their effects on practical life. Then follows the warm exhortation: "Awake to righteousness"—"an exclamation full of apostolic majesty" (Bengel)—"and sin not." Such views as he had condemned came from a want of the knowledge of God. More than this, it was humiliating that such errors were found among the Corinthians. "I speak this to your shame." The argument, as conducted to its present point, has included a number of particulars, each luminous in itself, each reflecting light on the general course of the idea foremost in his mind; and from the wide range, reaching to the end of the mediatorial kingdom, he returns to himself as daily dying for the sake of these truths. On the other side, what is the landing place? It is, in Epicurean morality and practice, the deception and corruption and shame of "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." And as he comes back from this extensive circuit of thought, convictions far more profound than earthly logic, and emotions deeper than earthly love, press themselves into utterance while he reminds these Corinthians how far astray they had gone, "not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God."—L.

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