1 Corinthians 15Observe here, 1. The subject-matter of St. Paul's preaching to the Corinthians: it was the gospel. I declare unto you the gospel which I preached; and particularly the doctrine of the body's resurrection, which was a great point of that gospel which he had preached and delivered to them.
Observe, 2. The obedience which many, if not most of the Corinthians, had given to the doctrine of the gospel; they heard it, believed it, and embraced it as the truth of God. Which gospel ye received, and wherein ye stand; that is, the best and greatest part of you are firm to your former profession, though some are fallen away.
Observe, 3. The blessed effect which the gospel had upon those that did believe and receive it: By it they were saved; that is, put into a salvable state, brought into the right and only way that leads to salvation. The gospel reveals the object, salvation; it directs lost man which way to arrive at it, assures him that it is attainable, and inclines and encourages him seriously to endeavour after the attainment of it.
Observe, 4. The condition annexed and required on our part, in order to the attaining that salvation which the gospel discovers unto us, and that is, perseverance; for that is implied in our keeping in memory what we have received: Ye are saved, if ye keep in memory. If we do not stedfastly cleave to the gospel, and to this grand doctrine of it, the resurrection, our hearing is vain, our believing is vain, our hopes of salvation are vain: By the gospel we are saved, if we keep it in memory, and practise it; otherwise we have believed in vain.
Observe here, The apostle's fidelity,
1. In delivering nothing to the church but what he had received: I delivered to you first of all that which I also received; either mediately by Ananias, or by immediate revelation from Christ himself.
Observe, 2. The principal and fundamental doctrines or articles of faith, which the apostle in his preaching had insisted upon amongst them; namely, the death, the burial, and the resurrection, of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
That he died for our sins, that is, a voluntary sacrifice for our sins, to make an atonement for sin, as the prophets Isaiah and Daniel had long foretold.
And that he was buried: the dead body of our dear Redeemer was decently buried by a small number of his own disciples, and continued in the state of the dead, and under the power of death for a time. That he was buried, is a demonstration of the certainty that he died.
And that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. Christ, though laid, was not lost, in the grave; but by the omnipotent power of his Godhead revived, and rose again from the dead the third day, to the consternation of his enemies, and the consolation of all believers.
Observe, 3. How the apostle proves the truth and verity of Christ's resurrection by ocular demonstration; he is risen, because he was seen alive after his passion; first of Peter, next of the whole college of the apostles, which formerly consisted of twelve, then of five hundred brethren at once in Galilee, whereof some were then alive to testify it; after which he was seen of James, and then of all the apostles.
These were all holy persons, who durst not deceive, and who confirmed their testimony with their blood. So that no article of faith, no point of religion, is of more confessed truth and infallible certainty, than this of our Lord's resurrection; and blessed by God it is so, seeing the whole weight of faith, hope, and salvation, depends upon Christ as risen from the dead. Behold how great a weight the scripture hangs upon this nail: Thanks be to God, it is a nail fastened in a sure place. Our Lord's resurrection is his church's consolation.
As Christ was seen of St. Paul last of all the apostles, so it is probable he was seen last by him, of all persons. We read not of any that saw Christ after St. Stephen and St. Paul, who here reckons himself among those who were eye-witnesses of the risen Jesus: Last of all he was seen of me also.
Observe farther, the great humility of St. Paul, in styling himself an untimely birth, or a person born out of due time.
But in what sense doth he mean that he was born out of due time?
Answer, 1. Negatively; not that he was, as to his spiritual birth, born too soon, but rather too late. Alas! he had been too long a proud Pharisee, a formal professor, a fiery persecutor. In this sense he was no abortive, or born out of due time, or rather born too late than too soon.
But positively, he calls himself an abortive, or untimely birth,
1. Because he was the last of the apostles that was called; the rest were called by Christ whilst here on earth. Paul was called by Christ from heaven, after his departure from earth to heaven.
2. Because of the suddenness and violence of his conversion; an abortion is occasioned by some sudden surprise, some strain, or violent motion. St. Paul's conversion was a wonderful violent conversion, out of the ordinary way and course; he was smitten from his horse to the ground, and lay as one dead in his passage to his new life.
3. Because abortive children are lesser, weaker, and more imperfect children, than those of full growth. As an abortive child is the least of children, so he reckons himself the least of the apostles, and styles himself so in the next verse, where he thus speaks, I was as one born out of due time.
Observe here, 1. The profound humility of this great apostle, and how low he was in his own thoughts: he calls himself the least of the apostles, nay, not meet or worthy to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the church of Christ with so much fury and fierceness. Elsewhere he styles himself less than the least of all saints; not that any thing can be less than the least; but the original being a double diminutive, his meaning is, that he was as little as could be.
O admirable humility! The more we know of God and ourselves, the more humble apprehensions we shall have of ourselves; a good man's thoughts are always lowest of himself; the more holiness any man has, the more humility he has. Humility is a great evidence of our holiness, it being indeed a great part of our holiness.
Observe, 2. How the apostle ascribes all that he was, wherein he differed from others, to the grace of God: By the grace of God I am what I am. As we receive our natural being from the power of God, so we derive our spiritual being from the grace of God. If I forbear what is evil, it is from restraining grace; if I follow what is spiritually good, it is from sanctifying grace: therefore not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy grace be the praise.
Observe, 3. The blessed fruit which the grace of God produced in St. Paul: it caused him to labour, (grace is an active principle,) to labour abundantly, to labour more abundantly than all the apostles; not more than all of them put together, but more than any one of them that were his fellow apostles separately considered. Such as receive most grace and favour from God, are holily ambitious to do the utmost services for God.
Observe, 4. Lest he should seem to be too assuming, and to arrogate any thing to himself, he adds, Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Behold how the holy apostle ascribes the fruit of all his endeavours to the grace of God, to the influences and assistances of the Holy Spirit of grace, exciting him, assisting him, working in and with him, and succeeding of him in all his enterprises and undertakings for the glory of God, and the good of souls. I laboured, yet not I, but divine grace that went along with me.
Observe, 5. The inference which the apostle draws from the whole: Therefore, whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. That is, whether it were I, or any other of the apostles, who laboured most in the preaching of the gospel, the doctrine is the same; namely, that Christ died for our sins, rose again, and will raise us.
This is the doctrine which we apostles preached, and which you Corinthians believed and received; therefore why should any of you now stagger in the faith, and disbelieve the resurrection of the body? which is a blow made at the root of Christianity.
Alas! what have we to carry our spirits through all the rugged passages and cross dispensations of this life, but only our hopes in reversion, only our hopes of a glorious resurrection, and blessed immortality.
Our apostle having asserted and proved the resurrection of Christ by ocular demonstration, by a plentiful testimony of those who saw him after he was risen, and withal informed them that this was the doctrine of the gospel which both he and the rest of the apostles had with one consent preached to them, he from hence infers the certainty and necessity of our resurrection. And because some of the church of Corinth were tainted with the wicked opinion of the Sadducees, who said there was no resurrection; therefore to strangle this monstrous opinion amongst the Corinthians in the birth, he shows the absurdity of it in these verses before us.
His first argument runs thus: If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ the head is not risen; for if the head be risen, he will certainly raise up his members. Christ's resurrection is the cause, the pattern, and archetype of ours: he did not only raise his body from the grave, but his church with him. For indeed Christ is not perfectly risen, till all his members are risen with him, and raised like him. True it is, that Christ's personal resurrection was perfect when he arose; and it is as true, that all believers arose representatively when Christ arose. But till all believers arise personally, the resurrection of Christ has not received its utmost perfection.
His next work is to prove the certainty of Christ's resurrection, from the manifold absurdities which would follow upon the denial of it; as namely, first, if Christ be not risen, then the apostle's preaching was vain, and their belief of it was vain also. Our preaching is vain; that is, we who in our preaching have so strongly asserted Christ's resurrection as an infallible argument of the divinity of his person and doctrine, have taught you a vain and idle dream. And your faith in Christ, as risen from the dead, is no better than a fancy, vain also; seeing the object of it faileth, Christ as risen from the dead.
2. If Christ be not risen, then we are found false witnesses of God: that is, then St. Paul himself, and the other apostles, had given a false testimony of God to the world, in affirming that God the Father had raised up Christ his Son from the dead: which he did not do, if there be no resurrection of the dead. To be false witnesses for men, is a sin of no common guilt; but to belie God, and be false witnesses for God, is a sin of aggravated guilt, which the holy apostle could not be supposed to be guilty of.
Again, 3. If Christ be not raised form the dead, then we are yet in our sins; that is, under the guilt of our sins, and liable to condemnation for our sins: we are not justified and absolved from them, unless Christ has expiated the guilt of them; and this he has not done if he be not risen, but remains himself under the power of death; for he was raised again for our justification.
Farther, 4. If Christ be not risen, then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished; that is, the dead saints in general, and the holy martyrs and sufferers for Christ, in particular, who are fallen asleep, are perished utterly, and lost finally, if there be no resurrection: martyrs will then be great losers, and martyrdom great folly.
Lastly, Then Christians are of all men most miserable. As if the apostle had said, As those martyrs were arrant fools, and perished as such, who laid down their lives for Christ, if they have no hopes of a resurrection, when they shall take them up again; so we Christians that survive are the wretchedest creatures upon earth, who undergo all the sufferings and hardships of this life; and deny ourselves many comforts and advantages which we might enjoy.
If after this mortal life we have no hope, who would care to do well, or who would fear to do ill? Were this believed, none would live so fleshly and sensual a life as those that do not believe the resurrection of the flesh; and none would be so miserable in this life as the holy, self-denying Christian, had he not a hope after death of a glorious resurrection.
Learn hence, That true Christians would be more unhappy than any other men, if their happiness were confined to this life only: we are of all men most miserable. We Christians are more miserable than other mortals; and we apostles and ministers more miserable than other Christians, who like beacons upon the tops of mountains, stand open continually to all storms and tempests raised against us by men and devils.
Observe here, 1. The resurrection of Christ declared: Now is Christ risen from the dead.
2. Our resurrection from his is inferred and insured: he arose as the first-fruits of them that slept. The term of first-fruits in the Levitical law, Lev 23:10. These were offered both as an acknowledgment that the whole crop was God's, and as a pledge and assurance of their enjoying the whole crop from God, and as a mean by which the whole crop was consecrated and sanctified to their use.
As sure as the whole harvest follows the first-fruits, so shall the saints' resurrection follow the resurrection of Christ, as an effect follows its proper cause; for Christ's resurrection is the meritorious cause, the efficient cause, and the exemplary cause, of our resurrection; and as it is the cause, so is it the pledge, the earnest and the full assurance of ours.
Observe, 3. Christ is called the first-fruits of them that slept; that is, the first-fruits from the dead of them that slept; not as if Christ were absolutely the first that was raised from the dead, for we read of one raised by Elijah, and another by Elisha, and of Lazarus raised by Christ; but these were so raised as to die again; they were not raised to a life of immortality: but now Christ was the first that arose never to die more; the first that arose by his own power, the first that arose to give others a pledge and assurance of their rising after him, and of their rising like unto him. Christ's resurrection is the cause, the pattern, the pledge, the assurance of the believer's resurrection: Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.
Here observe, That our apostle, to prove Christ's resurrection to be the cause of our resurrection, makes a comparison betwixt Adam and Christ, whom he represents as two originals and fountains, the one of death the other of life. As by Adam's sin all that are partakers of his human nature die a natural death, so all that are partakers of Christ's divine nature, all that are his spiritual seed and offspring, shall be raised and made alive by him; for the expressions, in Adam and in Christ, do denote a casuality in both, the one of death, and the other of life; as the death of all mankind came by Adam, so the resurrection of all mankind comes by Christ. The wicked shall be raised by him officio judicis, by the power of Christ as their lord and judge: the righteous shall be raised beneficio Mediatoris, by virtue of their union with him as their head.
Here our apostle answers an objection. Some might say, If Christ's resurrection be the cause of the believer's resurrection, then why did not all believers rise when he arose? The Head being risen, why did not all the members rise with him?
He answers, No: God hath appointed an order which must be observed; and this order was, that Christ should be the first-fruits of the harvest; that he should rise first from the dead, and then they that are Christ's, at his coming to judgment, shall rise after him. And then cometh the end; that is, the end of the world, when Christ will deliver up his kingdom to God the Father.
What kingdom? His mediatorial kingdom, which, as Mediator, he received from his Father; not his natural and essential kingdom, which as God he had with his Father from eternity; this shall never be delivered up, for of this his kingdom there shall be no end. But at the end of the world, Christ having subdued all his and his church's enemies, and put down all rule, authority, and power, both in the world and in the church, he shall deliver up his mediatorial kingdom to his Father, and reign no longer as Mediator, and as deputed by his father; but he shall still reign, eternally reign, as God equal with the Father; for his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endureth to eternal ages.
Here note, That when our apostle is setting forth the order in which the saints shall arise, he says nothing of a first and second resurrection, nothing of a first and second coming of Christ to judgment; one to reign on earth a thousand years, and a second to judge all the world. Mention is here made of a general resurrection, when all the saints shall be raised together; but not a word of some being raised before the rest to reign with Christ a thousand years.
Observe here, 1. What sin had subjected the human nature to, and that is, death; sin brought mortality into our natures, and the wages of sin is death.
Observe, 2. That death is an enemy to humanity, an enemy to the whole race of mankind, both to body and soul, to the righteous and to the wicked; to the body, by turning that which is the glory of the creation in a moment into rottenness and putrefaction; to the soul, by occasioning its separation from the body, towards which it has so strong and affectionate an inclination and desire, as its old companion.
Death is also an enemy to the righteous, as it blunts the edge of his desires after heaven, and abates that joy which he should have in the believing thoughts and apprehensions of heaven; and it is an enemy to the wicked, as it is a passage to everlasting misery, by their falling immediately into the hands of the living God, from whose mouth they receive a final sentence to depart accursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
Observe, 3. That this enemy is the last enemy; it is so to the children of God; when they have overcome death, they have overcome all their enemies at once, and especially their worst enemy, sin, which they could never overcome before fully.
Blessed be God, though death came into the world by sin, yet sin shall go out of the world by death.
Note, 4. This last enemy shall be destroyed, by losing its sting that it cannot annoy, by losing its terror that it cannot amaze, by losing its power that it cannot destroy; and by losing its very being, it shall be finally abolished and destroyed, by a resurrection from the dead.
Note, 5. The destroyer of death, this last enemy, is Christ, I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death. Hos 13:14. Christ has conquered death meritoriously by his satisfaction, victoriously by his satisfaction, victoriously by his resurrection.
6. The scope and drift of the apostle's argument in this assertion: and that is, to prove the necessity of his resurrection. The argument lies thus: Christ must reign till all his enemies are destroyed; but death is one of these enemies, the last of them which keeps the believer's body from union with his soul, and from communion with Christ: therefore death must be destroyed; and there is no other way to destroy death but by a resurrection from the dead, which is the truth our apostle strongly proves throughout this chapter.
Our apostle here proceeds in the argument which he begun at the 24th and 25th verses, that Christ must continue as Mediator to reign till all things are subject to him, and all enemies subdued by him.
This the apostle here proves, because God the Father has put all things, and all persons, under his Son's feet, as Mediator, himself only excepted; God the Father having reserved to himself his own sovereign empire and supreme authority; he being excepted from this subjection himself, who gave it to his Son. And when all things shall be thus subdued to Christ, then his mediatorial kingdom shall be delivered up to his Father, from whom he received it; yea, the Son himself, as Mediator and Head of the church, shall be subject to the Deity, that God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, may be all in all by a full communication to, and intimate union with, the saints.
Learn hence, 1. That the mediatorial kingdom of Christ was given to him by God the Father, as a reward for his sufferings, He became obedient to the death, wherefore God hath highly exalted him. Phil 2:8,9.
2. That this mediatorial kingdom was given to Christ only according to his human nature; seeing the human nature only suffered, and the divine nature is capable of no such exaltation or new dominion, he was thus exalted, because he was the Son of man, Joh 5:27.
Learn, 3. That during the continuance of the mediatorial kingdom of Christ, the Father judges no man, but commits all judgment unto his Son, giving him full power and authority to punish and reward according to his own wisdom, will, and pleasure: and as Lord of all, he gives laws to all.
4. That this mediatorial kingdom, Christ shall certainly lay down; when all things are subdued unto him, the exercise of his kingly power shall cease then; and as Christ is now all in all with relation to his church, the Godhead then will be all in all; and Christ himself, as man, will be subject to his Father, as well as saints and angels are subject to him.
From those words, God shall be all in all, we learn, That all the saints shall be abundantly satisfied in heaven, with the fruition of the Deity alone; there is enough in God alone eternally to fill and satisfy all the blessed souls in heaven, without the addition of any creature comfort. God is complete satisfaction to his children in the absence (I must not say want) of all other enjoyments; we shall want none of them at our journey's end, for there God will be all in all: as in heaven we shall see God, so we shall there eye nothing but God.
Expositors do vary exceedingly in the sense and interpretation of this difficult text: some understand it of a sacramental, some of a funeral, and some of a metaphorical baptism or washing.
Those who understand it as a sacramental baptizing, say, that the baptized for the dead, are those who are baptized upon the article of the resurrection of the dead, and consequently in hope of the resurrection. As if the apostle had said, As for those among you in the church of Corinth, who are baptized persons, and yet deny the resurrection of the dead, I would demand of them, why they have in their baptism made a profession of believing the article of the resurrection; why were they baptized in this faith, if they now renounce it? To be a baptized Christian, and yet deny the resurrection, is a flat and plain contradiction.
Others understand it of a funeral washing of the dead corpse in order to burial; and they say this was done in the belief and expectation of the dead body rising again. As if he had said, If the dead corpse shall never rise more, to what purpose do you wash them? Do men give respect where there is no hope?
Others will have a metaphorical and allegorical baptism here intended, namely afflictions, persecutions, and martyrdom. As if he had said, If there be no resurrection of the dead, what benefit will accrue to those that suffer persecution, and death itself, for professing and defending the resurrection of some that are dead, namely, Christ Jesus, whose resurrection is past; and of the saints, whose resurrection is to come?
Some, last of all, render the words thus: Moreover, what shall they do that are baptized for the sake of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are they therefore baptized for the sake of the dead? As if the apostle had said, What shall they do which are baptized for the sake of the holy saints and martyrs deceased? Is it not by reason of them, that they take up the profession of Christianity?
Yes, surely, the sight of the holiness of their lives, and of their courage and constancy at their deaths, has stirred up many to espouse the same holy religion, and to admit themselves into it by the sacrament of baptism: The death of an eminent saint made a great number of disciples in those days, and the blood of an holy martyr baptized whole cities; now to what purpose is all this, if the dead rise not at all.
Our apostle is still arguing for the belief of the resurrection of the dead, and seems to speak here after this manner: what folly would it be in us Christians, to choose a religion that exposes us continually to death and danger? Why should we run the hazard of the loss of estate, liberty, and life itself, if there be no resurrection in order to a retribution, when our courage and constancy for Christ and his holy religion shall be acknowledged and rewarded?
Why stand we in jeopardy every hour? Intimating, that it would be the greatest folly and madness to suffer the worst of evils for the sake of Christianity, if all our hopes perish in the grave.
He adds farther, That as to himself he died daily; that is, was continually exposed to death, in danger of it, in expectation of it, and in a preparation for it; which he would never have been, if he had not an expectation of a glorious resurrection, when all his sufferings and services should be rewarded.
And to confirm the truth of what he said, he binds with a solemn protestation, I protest by your rejoicing, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily; that is, either I protest by all the joy which I have in your conversion to Christianity, and by all that rejoicing which is found with me for the success of my ministry among you: or else, I protest by all that rejoicing which I have in common with you and all Christians under the heaviest sufferings for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord, that I live continually a dying life, perpetually in expectation of death, and preparation for it.
The apostle had mentioned his sufferings in general, in the former verses, to testify his belief and hope of a future resurrection: here he relates one particular kind and manner of suffering; namely, his fighting with beasts at Ephesus. To what purpose had he that mighty struggle there, and ran such a hazard of his life as that was, if he had no hope of a better life after this, no expectation of a blessed resurrection?
If I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, &c. A twofold interpretation is given of these words: some understand them literally and properly, that he did really combat with wild beasts;; it being usual in those times of persecution, under heathenish powers, to cast Christians to wild beasts; the common cry then was, Christianos ad leones, Away with the Christians to the lions.
But some object against this interpretation, That the apostle being a freeman of Rome, had no such indignity offered to him; that in the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke gives no relation of it; and that the apostle himself in the catalogue he gives of his sufferings, 2Cor 11:16-33 makes no mention of it; unless it be comprehended under those general words, In deaths often.
Others therefore understand the words in a metaphorical sense, I have fought with beasts; that is, savage men, with men like beasts in their manners and conditions. And thus some refer this conflict to Acts 19:23-41 where we read of his contest with Demetrius, and the silversmiths, about Diana's temple at Ephesus.
Others refer it to Acts 14:19-20 when he was stoned at Lystra, and left for dead. But whether we understand it literally or figuratively, the force of the argument lies thus: If I have undergone such deaths and dangers at Ephesus as I have done, and exposed my life the the utmost hazard, in hopes of a happy resurrection, what profit is all this to me, if there be no resurrection? What get I by such hazards and hardships, if there be no life to come? Nay, if matters be so, it will be more reasonable to say, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
Verily, then, sensual fools are the wisest men; and they have the best of it that gratify their appetites and brutish desires, expecting they shall shortly die, and there will be an end of them.
Learn hence, 1. That faith in the resurrection to a future life, encourages us against all the troubles and afflictions of this present life; the hope of future good is a powerful support under the pressure and burden of present evil.
Learn, 2. That upon supposition that there is no happiness beyond the grave, a life of sensual pleasure is not absurd. The epicure's song (Ede, bibe, lude, post mortem nulla voluptas; Eat, drink, play, and while it is day, for after death no man shall breathe;) seems not unreasonable.
Here the apostle advises them to take heed of being corrupted in their manners by such wicked principles as epicures would be ready to instill into them. Ill words draw persons on to ill deeds; therefore, says he, look to your communication and discourse, take heed of debauching your morals by evil communications; and he backs this exhortation with a forcible motive, because that such sensual principles and lewd opinions show that men's consciences and reason are in a deep sleep, and that a sottish stupidity has benumbed them: so much is implied in the next words, Awake to righteousness and sin not.
Here note, 1. That sin is frequently in scripture compared to sleep, and very fitly, because sinners apprehend things no better than men asleep; all their apprehensions of God and Christ, of heaven and hell, of eternity and a life to come, are slight and hovering notions, wild and uncertain guesses: and the most substantial realities are with them but mere fancies.
Again, he that is asleep is void of all care and fear, full of forgetfulness, unapprehensive of dangers; such is the sinner, whilst he continues asleep in sin, secure, but not safe.
Note, 2. That repentance is the soul's awaking out of the sleep of sin: the soul rouses up, apprehends, and considers its dangers, whilst there is possibility to escape it, and accordingly by repentance flies from the wrath to come.
Note, 3. That it is not enough that we awake from sin, but we must awake to righteousness; we must not only eschew evil, but do good: for a negative holiness saves none; the positive fruits of holiness towards God, and righteousness towards our neighbour, must be brought forth by us, and the duties of both tables be observed of us; this will be an argument of our sincerity, and an ornament to our profession.
The want of this, the apostle tells the Corinthians here, argued them not to have the true knowledge of God, which was really matter of shame to them, considering the means and advantages enjoyed by them: Some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame.
Our apostle, having fully proved the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in the foregoing part of the chapter, comes next to answer the objections that might be made against the body's resurrection.
And first, That it seems impossible that the dead should rise: to this he answers, That it is as possible for the dead to rise, as it is for corn sown in the earth to be quickened after it dies in the earth; corn sown rots and dies, yet doth not perish by dying, but rises up green and fresh. Thus the body sown in the grave is not lost: though the parts of the body by death are dissolved, yet they are not annihilated; they are scattered, but they are not perished; they lose not their entity, when they part with their relation to humanity; whatsoever we lose at death, is not lost to God; his knowledge is infinite, and his power unlimited: it is as easy for God to raise our bodies out of the dust, as to make them at first out of nothing; therefore Christ told the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, that they erred, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God, Matt 22:29.
The next objection against the body's resurrection is this: Who, say the objectors, can describe with what bodies the dead shall arise? Our apostle's answer is to this effect: That our bodies shall arise the same in substance and kind the same, but differs in qualities, coming up with blade and ear, and corn in it; it does not rise in the same figure in which it was sown, but it rises in the same nature in which it was sown; that which was sown wheat, rises wheat. Thus our bodies sown in the grave shall rise substantially the same, but different in qualities.
Here note, That those who did not believe the resurrection of the body, judged it not only an impossible thing, but an unworthy thing for God to raise the dead; they looked upon the body as the sepulchre and prison of the soul, and accounted it the soul's chiefest happiness to be delivered from the body, esteeming it a real punishment to the soul to be again reunited to so great a clog as the body is.
Therefore to this objection the apostle returns a satisfactory answer, by showing the happy chanage which shall pass upon the raised body; declaring, that though it shall arise the same body in substance, yet vastly different in qualities; of a mortal body sown, it shall rise a spiritual body; of a vile body, be made a glorious body.
St. Paul here proceeds farther to answer the question which the philosophers at Corinth put, namely, with what bodies do persons come forth out of the grave? He tells them, they shall be vastly different in qualities from what they are at present; and this he illustrates by similitude.
As, says he, there is difference in bodies here below, some more excellent, as the flesh of men, others less excellent, as the flesh of beasts and birds; and as there is a difference between celestial and terrestrial bodies, yea, a difference between celestial bodies among themselves, one excelling another in glory, as the sun excels the moon, and one star excels another; so will it be in the resurrection, the bodies that rise will vastly differ from those that died.
Here note, That all this is to be understood of the resurrection of the righteous, since it is their bodies alone that shall undergo this happy change, which in the next words the apostle describes.
Here the apostle gives a fourfold instance of the body's different qualities in the resurrection: It is sown in corruption; that is, it is here a frail mortal body, subject to putrefaction; but when raised shall be incorruptible, that is, never more subject to death or dissolution. It is here a vile body, subject to deformity and dishonour, and when sown or laid in the grave, is loathsome and unlovely; but shall be raised in glory, a bright and beautiful body, shining like the sun in the firmament of the heavens. It is thought we shall rise in a full and perfect age, in full strength, activity, and vigour: and whereas our bodies now move heavily, they shall then ascend and descend like angels.
Again, It is sown in weakness; that is, it is subject to weakness by labour, to decays by age, to impotency and wastings by diseases; and when it dies, it appears in impotent piece of clay. But it shall be raised in power by God's power; it shall be raised a powerful body; no more impotent, weak, or feeble, but strong and active, vigorous and nimble; never subject more either to weariness or weakness.
Lastly, It is sown a natural body, an animal body, a body suited to this lower sensible state, in which we live at present; and when it dies, it is sown in the grave, like the body of a beast. But it shall be raised a spiritual body.
Mark, he doth not say it shall be changed into a spirit, but into a spiritual body; a body it shall remain still, but spiritualized. It is probable that our bodies will then be aerial, and thin, and light, more suited to the nature of the soul, as active as fire, as fine and thin as the air.
More particularly note here, that the raised body will be a spiritual body in a threefold respect.
1. As it shall always be subject and serviceable to the spirit. Here the soul is subject to the body; the soul must go the body's pace; but at the resurrection the body shall be everlastingly subject to the soul or spirit, and for that reason is called a spiritual body.
2. It may be called a spiritual body, in regard of the great strength and activity with which the body shall be then endowed; spirits are strong, and so is every thing that is spiritual. The devil is called a spiritual enemy, because he is a powerful enemy. Thus our spiritual bodies will be strong bodies; and strong had they need to be, that they may be able to bear that exceeding weight of glory, as the apostle calls it, 2Cor 4:17, which would crush our bodies under it, were they not made strong to bear it.
3. It is called spiritual, because it will then need no natural helps to support it, as meat, drink, sleep, and clothing. We shall want these no more than the angels want them, being immediately supported by the power of God, as they are.
Thus it is sown a natural body, but raised a spiritual body; not attenuated into a spirit, but still a body; a real, but spiritual body. The body, after the resurrection, shall be true flesh, but spiritualized, rarefied, and refined; it shall not lose any perfections which it had, but gain many perfections which it had not.
Hail, happy day, when soul and body shall be re-united, and the happiness of both completed! How will the soul then bless God for that body which was here its instrument and assistant in the service of God; and how will the body then bless God for such a soul, which was so careful to secure an interest in that happiness which it was created for, and made capable of! Then will full glory be poured into the soul: and when it is a second time married to the body, it shall have a greater degree of glory than ever it had.
Observe here, 1. Our apostle draws a parallel between the two Adams, the first man and Christ; they were two roots and distinct fountains, from whence all life did spring and flow; all natural life from the first Adam, all spiritual life from Christ the second Adam; The first Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
Observe, 2. The apostle compares the animal life we live by the union of our souls and bodies, with the spiritual life we live by the union of our souls with Christ. In point of dignity and real excellency, the spiritual life is far before the natural; but in point of priority, the natural life is before the spiritual. First that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual.
Observe, 3. What the pedigree and original of man was and is: He is of the earth, earthy. Earth is the original of man, the matter out of which his form was produced. Hence the earth is called his earth, His breath goeth forth, and he returneth to his earth. Ps 146:4
Observe, 4. As believers have borne in their bodies here on earth the image of the first Adam, so in the resurretion their bodies shall bear the image of the heavenly Adam; that is be changed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body. This is the highest degree of dignity and honour that a human body is capable of.
Those bodies which in their first formation were of dust and clay, and which in their dissolution are no better than a lump of corruption, when the grave delivers them back again shall be shining and excellent fabrics, bearing the image of Christ the heavenly Adam.
Then will the saints' bodies be absolutely and everlastingly freed from all natural infirmities, from all accidental deformities, from all wants and necessities; and shall never more be subject to death, that formidable adversary of human nature.
O blessed hour! when both soul and body shall live immediately upon God, and act freely and delightfully for God, and be forever satisfied in the full fruition and final enjoyment of God.
By flesh and blood, here, we are to understand our bodies in their present natural, corruptible, and mortal state. Such flesh and blood as ours is at present, unchanged, and unclothed with its heavenly body, cannot inherit the kingdom of God; that is, it cannot possibly enter into heaven, and bear the weight of glory which will there be put upon it.
Corruption, or nature subject to corruption, cannot inherit incorruption; that is, our corruptible bodies cannot enter into an incorruptible heaven.
Note here, Another argument produced by the apostle, to prove the necessity of the resurrection, or of raising and new-moulding the body in a spiritual condition: because our natural body, till it be made spiritual, cannot bear the presence of God in heaven; it must be fitted for that glorious place and state, before it be brought into it: by a change of qualities it must be spiritualized, purified, and immortalized, or it can never bear that weight of glory which is prepared for the saints in that glorious kingdom.
Here the apostle answers a third objection: some might say, What shall become of those who shall be found alive at Christ's coming?
He answers, they shall not die or sleep, but yet shall undergo a change as well as those that rise from the dead, these shall have flesh and blood changed into spiritual bodies, as well as they, and of mortal be made immortal, of corruptible become incorruptible, and all this in a moment of time. Christ's powerful voice will be like a trumpet, calling men together; and the dead shall be raised, and living saints changed into an incorruptible state.
Observe here, The identical expressions used by the apostle: he doth not say, corruptible must put on incorruption, and mortal must put on immortality, but this corruptible and this mortal, to show the identity and sameness of it. I believe the resurrection of this body, said the primitive Christians. Every man at the resurrection shall receive the same body that now he hath, and be the same person that now he is. Though he be not in every consideration what he was, yet he shall be who he was. If the same body that falls be not raised, it is not a resurrection, but a new creation. Indeed it is both unreasonable and unjust, that a person should sin in one body, and suffer in another; or serve God in one body, and be glorified in another. Job was clear in the belief of this, In my flesh shall I see God, and mine eyes shall behold him.
Here observe, 1. The happy condition of believers in the glorious morning of the resurrection, when their corruptible bodies shall be made by the power of Christ incorruptible and immortal: Then shall death be swallowed up in victory; that is, be overcome for ever, never to destroy or hurt any more, or to have the least power over the body for ever. The conqueror of all flesh is now fully conquered, and the spoiler of mankind finally spoiled.
O Death! thou wert once a victorious conqueror, an universal conqueror, slaying not thy thousands and ten thousands only, but beyond number; from the infant to the aged, from the dunghill to the throne, sparing neither age nor sex, neither great nor small, neither sacred nor profane.
But the Captain of our salvation having entered into the grave, the territories of death, the king of terrors, has there encountered, disarmed, and destroyed, this victorious conqueror: Death is swallowed up in victory.
Some read it, Death is swallowed down, death is drank up at a draught. Christ called his sufferings, by which he obtained victory over death, a cup; and as death is drank up, so mortality is swallowed up, 2Cor 5:4. Blessed be God, beyond the grave there is neither death, nor any thing like death, neither death nor mortality. The one is abolished, the other swallowed up of life.
Observe, 2. How the apostle, in the name of all believers, triumphs and holily insults over death, the last conquered enemy. He laughs at it to the very face with a pious scorn and holy derision: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? As if a man having disarmed his enemy should say, Now, sir, where's your sword? where's your pistol? Thus the believer: O death, thou thoughtest to pierce, to pain, to poison us with thy sting; but where is now thy sting? Thou thoughtest thyself a conqueror, but behold thou art conquered. Where is now thy victory?
Blessed be God for these songs of victory and triumph, which the Captain of our salvation has put into the mouths of all those that fight under his exalted banner.
Observe here, 1. Death has its sting. A sting has a threefold property, to pierce, to pain, and to poison: all which were applicable unto death.
Observe, 2. Death's sting is sin, or death has its sting upon the account of sin. Sin, like a sting, pierces; it pierces us in its guilt, it pierced Christ in its punishment. The soul which no weapon can reach, sin can wound. As a sting, it paineth as well as pierceth. Judas was so pained with it, that in the height of horror he hanged himself in hopes of ease. And as a sting it poisoneth; sin is a deadly poison, pleasant in the mouth, bitter in the belly, baneful in the end. So strong a poison is sin, that nothing could expel it but the blood of Christ.
Observe, 3. Death comes to a believer without a sting; behold, Christ became obedient unto death, that he might unsting death. Death shot its sting into our Saviour's side, there left it, and there lost it: it is not now unto any of his members a hurting, but a healing serpent; there is now no venom, no malignity in it.
Observe, 4. That as sin is the sting of death, so the strength of sin is the law. Not as if the law did encourage a man to sin, or strengthen him in sinning: for it prohibits sin under the severest penalties, and condemns the sinner to the pit of hell: but the law gives life, or adds strength, to sin.
1. By the curse and obligation of it, binding the sinner under the guilt of sin to the judgment of the great day. Thus the law strengthens sin, by putting into it a condemning power.
2. By the irritation of the law: sin takes occasion by the law, and by the commandment becomes exceeding sinful; when lust finds itself restrained, then like a river that is stopt, it rises and foams and rebels against the law of the mind, and fetches in all its force to rescue itself from that sword which heweth it in pieces.
3. By the conviction and manifestation of the law, laying open sin to the conscience of the sinner, and showing him that God is all eye to see, and all fire to consume, every unclean thing. Thus the law gives sin its strength, and death its warrant, to arrest and execute us. Ah, wretched and miserable sinner! upon whom, together with death, the weight of sin, and the curse of the law fall together! which woundeth deep, and presseth low, even to the lowest hell, unless thou canst say truly, what the apostle doth triumphantly, in the next verse.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory-- Over sin, death, and the law.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ. That is, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Observe here, 1. An enemy encountered, death: death armed by sin, and strengthened by the law. This is often a surprising enemy, an amazing enemy, a spoiling and destroying enemy, an inevitable and unavoidable enemy.
Observe, 2. Victory over this enemy declared: the destruction of death, as to its terror and power. Death is overcome. But how? Non ut ne sit, but ut non obsit; not that it should not be, but that it should not hurt. Death has lost its sting, that it cannot annoy; it has lost its terror, that it cannot amaze; it has lost its power, that it cannot destroy.
Observe, 3. The victors or conquerors over this enemy--who are first Christ, and then all that are Christ's, all that harvest of which Christ is the first-fruits.
Observe, 4. The triumph proclaimed, Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory.
From the whole learn, That all believers are victorious over death, through our Lord Jesus Christ. They may triumph over death through Christ, because he has disarmed it by his death and satisfaction, he has destroyed it by his resurrection; and Christ's victories become the believer's by participation and communion with him. As they communicate with him in the value of his satisfaction, so they communicate with him in the virtue of his resurrection.
Let us therefore triumph with the apostle, and say, Thanks be to God; with the prophet, Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust. Thus victory was won by Christ, it is won by us; it was dear to Christ: it is cheap to us: we overcome, but it is by the blood of the Lamb. Let us therefore, living and dying, say, Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here our apostle concludes this chapter, and closes his discourse on this great subject, the doctrine of the body's resurrection, with an exhortation to duty. Be ye steadfast; that is, in the faith of the gospel in general, and in the belief of this particular article of our Christian faith, the resurrection of the dead.
Unmoveable; that is, be not moved by any temptations or tribulations, either from the faith and hope of the gospel, or, from obedience to the gospel. Let no fear of the cross of Christ make you weary of the yoke of Christ.
Always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Here note, That the more steady and stedfast any man is in the belief of a blessed resurrection, the more forward and zealous, the more active and industrious, will he be in the service of the work of God.
Forasmuch as your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord; that is, your painfulness in the service of God shall be plentifully recompensed by him at the resurrection of the just.
Where note, 1. The nature and quality of that service, or work of God declared, it is a labour; the vast circumference of a Christian's duty makes it so; the curious and exact manner in and after which every duty must be performed, makes it so; the great opposition that he meets with in his duty, makes it so. But the greater their labour is on earth, the sweeter will their rest be in heaven.
Note, 2. The reward that sweetens this labour: It shall not be in vain, there is the transcendency of the reward Forasmuch as ye know; there is the certainty of it. The Christian's services for Christ shall be certainly and transcendently rewarded by Christ in another world. His labour is finite, his reward is infinite. There is no more proportion between a Christian's labour and reward, that betwixt time and eternity. O infinite glory, the reward of our poor labour.
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