But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
has risen from the dead, and in doing so he has become the Firstfruits of them that slept.
I. CHRIST'S RESURRECTION PRECEDES THAT OF HIS PEOPLE. The doctrine of the future life, obscure in the earlier periods of revelation, was made known with growing clearness as ages passed on. But it was Christ who "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Not only by his explicit teaching, but by his own victory over the grave, did our Saviour bring to mankind an assurance of eternal life. And, in point of time, he led the way for his faithful followers and friends.
II. CHRIST'S RESURRECTION IS EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE AND QUICKENING POWER WHICH SHALL RAISE HIS PEOPLE AFTER HIM. The presence of a Divine power of life was manifest when, on the third day, the Lord of glory rose victorious from the tomb. If before it was doubtful whether in the universe there resided such a life-giving energy, such doubt was now dispelled. The same Divine might which raised the Leader can raise the followers too. The sun which has ripened the sheaf which is presented as the firstfruits of the harvest has warmth and vital geniality to mature the crop that clothes the vastest plain; and the Spirit of life which quickened the crucified One will raise up us also to be glorified with him.
III. CHRIST'S RESURRECTION IS UNTO THE SAME BLESSEDNESS OF LIFE WHICH IS APPOINTED FOR HIS PEOPLE. Our Lord did not rise to renew the humiliation and the sufferings of this earthly existence; he rose a Conqueror to live and reign in glory. And the purpose of infinite grace is that, where the Master is, there also shall his disciples and servants be. We may share his weakness and his woe, but we shall share also his might and his blessedness; we may bear his cross, but we shall also wear his crown.
IV. CHRIST'S RESURRECTION IS THE EARNEST OF HIS PEOPLE'S IMMORTAL LIFE, "Death hath no more dominion over him." And those for whom he both died and rose again live in him and live forever. "There shall we ever be with the Lord." "They go no more out." It is to the glory of the Lord and Husbandman when the firstfruits are brought into the temple and offered upon the altar. But the glory of that day shall be yet greater when the harvest shall be completed, and when the garner of God shall be filled with the rich spiritual produce of the earth. - T.
But now is Christ risen from the dead .... first-fruits of them that sleptI. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AS AN HISTORIC FACT. If Socrates died of the fatal hemlock in an Athenian prison; if Caesar died upon the Roman senate-floor, stricken down by the daggers of assassins; then Christ, our Redeemer, not only died on Golgotha, but on the third day rose again, leading captivity captive. This miracle of the resurrection, as Neander has remarked, is not of the class designed for the conviction of unbelievers. It was rather, in the first instance, for such as already believed in Christ, and now needed only that their faith should be sealed and confirmed.
II. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST IN ITS RELATION TO PREVIOUS ECONOMIES. There were two of these economics, and under each of them a miracle bearing some resemblance to the resurrection of Christ. Under the first, or patriarchal economy, there was the miracle of Enoch's translation. Under the second, or Jewish economy, there was the miracle of Elijah's being taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. Precisely what befel these men, it is impossible to say. But so much at least is certain, that these translations were not resurrections: for the men did not die. The fact proclaimed, and the doctrine illustrated by their departure, was simply the continued existence of the soul in a higher realm; in a word, the immortality of the soul, and not the resurrection of the body. So, also, of the resurrections which occurred under the Jewish economy. Elijah, it is true, restored again to life the widow's son at Zarephath; Elisha, the son of the Shunemite; and even Elisha's bones quickened the corpse which touched them. But these persons, thus recalled to life, all died again. Like the translations already spoken of, they attested rather the presence of a soul in man, destined to survive the striking of its tent of flesh. They attested the reality of a world of spirits, not so far removed but that those who had passed behind its curtain might be summoned back. That the body, reduced to ashes, should rise again, never more to be subject to decay, had only been proclaimed, not proved. The resurrection of Christ was, therefore, a new phenomenon. He was literally "the first-fruits of them that slept"; rising as none had ever risen before.
III. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST IN ITS RELATION TO OURSELVES.
(R. D. Hitchcock, D.D.)
The Evangelist.We might take occasion hence to consider the great fact — Christ is risen, the symbolical figure by which that fact might be illustrated — the first-fruits — and the favour which follows — the resurrection of the pious dead. Refer to Leviticus 23:10, etc. The first-fruits were a typical representation of Christ presented to God after His resurrection.
1. The first-fruits were of the same nature as the after fruits. Let this remind us that Christ is of the same nature as His people. He took a real human nature, that in that nature He might sanctify us, as the harvest was sanctified by offering the first-fruits to God. "For both He that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren." Had Christ died and risen in a different nature from ours, it would not have been conquering death for us. We could have derived no benefit or consolation from it. "The Man Christ"; "that Man whom He hath ordained"; "a Man approved of God"; "in all things made like unto His brethren." He had real flesh. He felt hunger, thirst, and weariness, which a mere spirit could not; and He had a real human soul, which could rejoice, grieve, be amazed, and angry. Being a Man, His resurrection to immortal life is the first-fruits of the human race from the grave.
2. The first-fruits were of superior excellence, being the best — most early ripe, and therefore stronger and more vigorous. Let this remind us of the excellency of Christ's human nature. He transcends all His brethren. He is without sin, and so excels in perfect purity. His soul had no base passions, His will no rebellion, His understanding was not obscured by mistakes, errors, or prejudices; His body was not influenced by bad habits, nor led astray by sensual appetites. Nor was He only free from sin; there were all the excellences which are comprised in perfection itself. He was, of all the sons of men, the first ripe for heaven — His ripeness was perfect, rich, delightful holiness and love.
3. As the first-fruits, being first ripe, were of superior excellence, and so were a shadow of Christ, so they were to be first gathered in. And thus they resembled Christ as "the first born from the dead," the first of all those who rose from the grave to immortality. It was fit that the Captain should lead the way to the soldiers, that the Conqueror of death should be the first to take possession of life, that He who was first in the perfection of holiness and grace should be first in the perfect possession of life and glory.
4. As the first-fruits were gathered on the morrow after the Sabbath, it is remarkable that our Lord rose, as "the first-fruits of them that slept," on the morrow after the Sabbath.
5. The sheaf of first-fruits was lifted up by the priest, and waved to and fro in the air, as an offering presented to the Lord. Christ, as a Priest, presented Himself as the First-fruits to God. The sheaf was waved, to be accepted:for Israel, and Christ presents Himself to God that we may be accepted before Him. As the first-fruits were presented to God, so our risen Lord rose to Him. "In that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God."
6. The corn of the first-fruits was threshed out and winnowed, and the pure corn was pounded, roasted, and, together with the oil and frankincense, was waved before God. Then part of it was made an offering by fire and the rest was the priest's. When Christ arose, He left all that was mean, humiliating, and mortal, left our sins, with His grave-clothes, in the sepulchre, as new corn separated from chaff. And the oil and frankincense may remind us of the oil of gladness with which the risen Saviour was anointed above His fellows, and the sweet frankincense of His intercession, which is sweet to God; and He offers Himself to God in flames of love, as the first-fruits, with oil and frankincense, was offered on the altar (a handful of them). The rest was for the priests, intimating that Christ, as raised from the dead, is the sweet and pure food of faith to which the spiritual priesthood are entitled. On earth and in heaven, Christ is immortal Bread, living Bread, and souls feast on Him and live and grow.
7. The first-fruits sanctified the whole crop. It might then be gathered in, but not before. Christ the first fruits being raised, such is the power of His resurrection, that the saints through Him have right to rise to a blessed immortality. But for that, they that are fallen asleep in Christ had perished. But by His resurrection they are sanctified for life and glory.
8. The first-fruits being accepted of the Lord for Israel, not only sanctified the harvest, but were a pledge that the harvest should follow. He is called the First-fruits, to convey the idea that the rest must come after. This is the doctrine and argument of this whole chapter. The favour pledged to the Church by the resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of all her members in the last day to fellowship with Christ in life, glory, and a blessed immortality. That state to which He arose, do they arise to also in their measure and order. As a prelude to this, some arose alter His resurrection. This shows that the resurrection of Christ has a retrospective influence, and sheds the dew of heaven on the graves of all who died in faith from the beginning.As He died for the sins under the first testament, so shall the ancient believers arise by virtue of His resurrection. It has also a prospective influence on the believing multitudes yet unborn.
1. The same power is employed in raising Christ and His people. "The exceeding greatness of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead." The utmost ability in man cannot re-kindle the vital spark. As no creature was employed to awaken Christ, so none shall quicken them. Here Omnipotence will work without means, and the heavenly house will be "a house not made with hands."
2. As it was the same Christ and the same body that arose, so the very bodies which fall asleep in Christ will again awake. The harvest will resemble the first-fruits in this also. It may not be every particle. "This mortal shall put, on immortality."
3. The same Spirit that quickened Christ will quicken us. It is spoken of as a privilege to be quickened by the Spirit (Romans 8.). The wicked may be raised by mere power, the saints by a holy and gracious influence. The Holy Spirit will then put forth His influence in its fullest display of power, sweetness, and glory like the influences of the spring on the vegetable world.
4. The whole Trinity concurred in Christ's, and shall also in our resurrection.
5. Sin lay on Christ before His death; and there was still some portion of the curse on Him while He lay in His grave. But He arose free from the burden. Saints have to contend with sin while in the body; but they will rise free and pure.
6. Christ wept in His last sufferings. He rose to weep no more. So from the eyes of risen Saints "God shall wipe away all tears." It is a resurrection to joy.
7. Christ; rose with His human soul full of love to His people, and they shall rise in the perfection of attachment to all who love the Lord. All envy, hatred, and alienation — all discord, strife, and evil surmisings will be destroyed for ever.
8. Christ rose with a body fit for heaven; and so shall they. "Raised in power," spirituality, and glory, all marks of their fallen and degraded estate shall disappear. "Their bodies shall be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body." Contemplate, then, the "end of the world" as the Redeemer's harvest. See the angels gathering the sheaves into the garner after the first-fruits.
(The Evangelist.)I. THE FACT OF THE RESURRECTION.
1. This event is indisputable.(1) Heaven attested it (see Matthew 28:2; Luke 24:2, 4-7).(2) Earth also bare her testimony (Matthew 28:2; Matthew 27:52, 53).(3) Enemies who were obliged to acknowledge that the body was no longer in the sepulchre, and could only produce the testimony of sleeping witnesses against it.
2. The agency by which it was effected.(1) Infidels perceive that the Christian system is signed and sealed by a miracle that requires one of the mightiest displays of omnipotence; they cannot affirm that God has affixed the broad seal of heaven's approbation to a lie. Since, then, it is so manifest that God alone could effect it, they do not presume, like the magicians of Pharaoh, to stretch forth the hand in bold and impious imitation.(2) We often find it ascribed to God without any distinction of persons (Acts 2:23, 24; Acts 3:13-15). At other times, however, it is referred to the Father (Romans 6:4); at others to the Son (John 2:19, 21); at others to the Spirit (Romans 8:11).
3. Its necessity. It was necessary —(1) Because Christ had Himself made His resurrection a test of His claims (Matthew 12).(2) Without it credence must be withheld from the teachings of His apostles (ver. 14).(3) That He might make efficacious intercession for His people, and secure to them all the blessings of the everlasting covenant (Romans 5:10; Hebrews 7:24, 25). Remember you have not "a dead Saviour," but one who has triumphed over death and all your foes. When Suwarrow, the Russian general, was being borne wounded from the battle-field, his soldiers, discouraged by the disappearance of their beloved commander, fell into confusion and fled; when the hardy veteran perceived it he leapt from his litter, mounted his horse, bleeding as he was, and exclaiming, "My children, I am still alive," rallied them, and led them back to victory! And shall not the discouraged Christian rouse every energy anew, when he hears Jesus, the great Captain of his salvation, exclaim, "I am He that liveth, and was dead, and, behold I am alive for evermore."
II. THE RELATIONSHIP WHICH, BY VIRTUE OF HIS RESURRECTION, IS FORMED BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE — that which exists between the first-fruits and the entire harvest. Christ the first-fruits, His people the plentitude of the ingathering. Hence we learn that the resurrection of Christ is inseparable from that of His people. Christ cannot be complete without His people. He is the "Vine," but where were the perfection of the vine without "the branches"? He is the "Head," but where were the perfection of the head without "the members"? Where shall we find completeness, perfection, beauty, in the "Husband" without the "bride," in the "Foundation" without the superstructure, in the "First-fruits" without the fulness of the ingathering? Notice —
1. That Christ is the "first-fruits" of the Resurrection of His believing people only. It is true that by His power all shall rise again. But it is with believers only that this relationship will be recognised. The term employed is, "them that slept," which evidently refers to the children of God (ver. 18). As He was the "first-fruits of them that slept" on the resurrection morning (Matthew 27:53), so also "them which sleep in Jesus" to the end of time, "will God bring with Him." But ere you can "fall asleep in Jesus," you must live a life of holiness in Jesus. If you go down to the grave with a heart unrenewed, you will rise again, indeed; but it will be "to the resurrection of damnation."
2. The order of the Resurrection. The righteous and the wicked will simultaneously rise from their graves. One common resurrection will precede one common judgment (John 5:28, 29; Matthew 25:31-34, 41-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelaiton 20:12, 13).
3. The nature of the change which will pass on the bodies of the saints. It will be a change from all that is earthly and gross and vile to that which is heavenly and holy and refined (ver. 35, etc.). By what mode this marvellous change shall be effected we know not. It is enough for us to know that our present vile and wasting body shall undergo a great and ennobling change, divesting it of all that is gross and fading, and clothing it in a robe of brilliance and majesty which shall make it "shine as the brightness of the firmament, as the stars for ever and ever."Conclusion: The subject affords ground of consolation —
1. For those who are suffering from bereavement.
2. To those whose lot is sickness and poverty in this vale of tears.
(J. Gaskin, M.A.)
I. THE CERTAINTY OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION. "Now is Christ risen." The way to prove a fact is by the evidence of witnesses. I, therefore, protest against confusing the issues which is popular nowadays, when we are told that miracle is impossible, and therefore there has been no Resurrection, or that death is the end of human existence, and that therefore there has been no Resurrection. The men who argue thus are no more logical than the reasoner who, when told that facts were against him, with sublime confidence in his own infallibility, said, "So much the worse for the facts." Let us deal with evidence, and not with theory.
1. In this chapter we have a record of the resurrection of Christ, older than, and altogether independent of, the Gospels; that this Epistle is one of the four undisputed Epistles of the apostle; that, therefore, this chapter, written at the latest, some twenty-seven years after the Crucifixion, carries us up very close to that went; that it shows that the Resurrection was believed all over the Church, and therefore must have then been long believed; that it enables us to trace the same belief among the Churches at the time of Paul's conversion, some five or six years after the Crucifixion, and that so we have absolutely contemporaneous testimony. This is not a case in which a belief slowly and gradually grew up.
2. And the witnesses are reliable and competent. It would be an anomaly, far greater than the Resurrection, to believe that these people were conspirators in a lie, and that the fairest morality and the noblest consecration grew up out of a fraud. But the apostle avers that that is the only tenable alternative. "If Christ be not risen, then are we men who are lying to please God." The fashionable modern theory, that it was hallucination is preposterous. Hallucinations that five hundred people at once shared; that lasted all through long talks, spread at intervals over more than a month; that included eating, drinking, the clasp of the hand, and the feeling of the breath; that culminated in the fancy that a gathered multitude of them saw Him going up into heaven! The hallucination is on the other side, I think.
3. Another valuable way of establishing facts is to point to others which indispensably require them for their explanation. I do not understand how it was possible for the Church to exist for a week after the Crucifixion, unless Jesus Christ rose again. How came it that these people, with their Master taken away, and their bond of union removed, and all their hopes crushed, did not say, "We have made a mistake, let us take to our fishing again, and try and forget our bright illusions." That is what John the Baptist's followers did when he died. Why did not Christ's do the same? Because Christ rose again and re-knit them together. Christianity with a dead Christ, and a Church gathered round a grave from which the stone has not been rolled away, is more unbelievable than the miracle, for it is an absurdity.
4. Then there is another thing. Suppose, after the execution of Charles I, a pretender had sprung up and said, "I am the king!" the way to end that would have been for the Puritan leaders to have taken people to Westminster Abbey, and said, "Look! there is the coffin, there is the body, is that the king or is it not?" Jesus Christ was said to have risen again. The rulers could have put an end to the nonsense in two minutes, if it had been nonsense, by the simple process of saying, "Go and look at the tomb and you will see Him there." But this question has never been answered, and never will be, What became of that sacred corpse if Christ did not rise again from the dead? The clumsy lie, that the disciples had stolen away the body, was the acknowledgment that the grave was empty. If the grave were empty, either His servants were impostors, which we have seen is incredible, or the Christ was risen again.
II. THE TRIUMPH IN THE CERTITUDE OF THAT RESURRECTION. The apostle has been speaking about the consequences which would follow from the fact that Christ was not raised. If we take these and reverse them, we understand this great burst of triumph from the apostle's lips.
1. The risen Christ gives us a complete gospel. A dead Christ annihilates it. "If Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain," i.e., empty — a blown bladder; nothing in it but wind. Strike the Resurrection out, and what have you left? Some beautiful bits of moral teaching, a lovely life, marred by tremendous mistakes about Himself and His relation to men and to God; but you have got nothing left that is worth calling a gospel.
2. A living Christ gives faith something to lay hold of. A dead Christ makes our faith "vain," i.e., "of none effect" or "powerless."(1) The risen Christ gives something for faith to lay hold of. Who can trust a dead Christ, or a human Christ? It is only when we recognise Him as declared to be the Son of God, and that by the Resurrection, that our faith has anything round which it can twine, and to which it can cleave.(2) If Christ be dead our faith, if it could exist, would be as devoid of effect as it would be empty of substance. It would be like an infant seeking nourishment at a dead mother's breast, or men trying to kindle their torches at an extinguished lamp. It would fail to bring deliverance from sin.
3. The risen Christ gives us the certitude of our Resurrection. Many men talked about a western continent, but Colunbus went there and came back again, and that ended doubt. Many men before, and apart from Jesus, have cherished thoughts of an immortal life, but He has been there and returned. And that only puts the doctrine of immortality upon an irrefragable foundation.Conclusion: If you will let Him, He will make you partakers of His own immortal life.
1. "The first-fruits of them that slept" is the pledge and the prophecy of all the waving abundance of golden grain that shall be gathered into the great husbandman's barns. The apostle goes on to represent the resurrection of "them that are Christ's" as a consequence of their union to Jesus. He has conquered for us all.
2. There are two resurrections; one, that of Christ's servants; one, that of others. They are not the same in principle — and, alas! they are awfully different in issue. "Some shall awake to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)1. Our common ideas and fears of death are more Pagan than Christian. Death to many men is the blank wall around life beyond which they look or plan for nothing. But physical death does not hold the first place in the economy of redemption. The Bible assigns it a subordinate place. Sin, indeed, entailed the certainty of death for man; but Adam was not commanded by the Lord to live every day a slave bound under the fear of death. Man is to work out his time here, and to pass through death, as born under the higher law of the Spirit, and with the possibility of eternal life always before him. And in the New Testament the chief use made of the fact of death is as a metaphor. Sin is death; the maid whom the people, thought dead Christ said "sleepeth." The importance of natural death falls into the background, and the new birth of the Spirit comes into the foreground.
2. The Christian doctrine of the Resurrection is a stumbling-block to faith because of this exaggerated estimate of death. We speak as though death were the ultimate law of life, and thus we have to smuggle in our hope of the resurrection as a miraculous exception. Exactly the opposite is true. Life is the law of nature, and death a natural means to more life and better. The resurrection of Jesus was not the great exception to natural law; it is an exemplification of the higher, universal law of life. In the opinion of the apostle the resurrection of Jesus was no more out of the Divine order of things than the first-fruits of the summer are exceptions to the general law which in the autumn shall show its universal power in every harvest-field.
3. The resurrection of Jesus is the great miracle of history, the corner-stone of the evidences of supernatural religion. But the miracle was not the fact itself, but in that He was raised before the last great day, and that He should be seen by men in His intermediate state between earth and heaven. And the God of the living had His own sufficient reason for making this one exception. It was partly for our sakes, that the world might believe. Was it not due also to the person of Jesus that He should not wait with all the saints for the day of final redemption? The miraculous thus in Jesus' resurrection pertains to the manner and time of it rather than to the essential fact of it. It was an exceptional fruit appearing before the harvest, which is the end of the world. If you should see a tree blossom, and the next morning find the fruit already ripe, you would say, That is extraordinary! It is not indeed contrary to the nature of the tree that fruit should ripen, yet contrary to all our experience of growth that the fruit should ripen in a day. And it would not be impossible to conceive a quickening of nature's forces which might cause a plant to break into fruitfulness contrary to our experience of its usual times and seasons. Somewhat so is Jesus' resurrection a first-fruit of the tree of life; not in itself contrary to the law of life, but in its manner and time out of the common order.
I. THERE IS NO LITTLE SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE FOR THE BELIEF THAT THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS, ALTHOUGH EXCEPTIONAL IN TIME AND MANNER, IS AN INSTANCE OF A GENERAL LAW OF RESURRECTION.
1. This was Jesus' teaching,. He answered the Sadducees by asserting that the dead shall be raised, but He placed the fact of the Resurrection upon the fundamental principle that life, not death, is God's first law. The highest law of human nature according to Christ is that it should "live unto God"; if there is to be eternal death, that death must come in as the exception, as the falling back of a soul from the kind of life for which it was created to the lower powers of corruption. It is born for freedom and life in constant relation to the living God; if it is to perish it can only be by making itself, through some inner falsehood, subject to corruption.
2. The Lord's own resurrection is set forth as an event which could not possibly have failed to occur (Acts 2:24, 27). How can holiness see corruption? how can life itself be given over to death? Impossible! It would have been a miracle had not Jesus risen from the dead — a miracle without reason, a miracle against the living God, had He not risen from the dead — the first-fruits of this power and order of Divine life in the creation.
3. The same truth comes out grandly in the apostolic gospel of the Resurrection. What is this wonderful chapter but a setting forth of the glorious law of the resurrection? First the historical fact that Jesus was seen after His death is solemnly attested; then Jesus' resurrection is declared to be the first-fruits of the whole harvest of life which is to follow; and then this process of the resurrection is shown to be in the largest and profoundest sense natural. It is a spiritual outgrowth from this body of death.(1) The nature of the resurrection is in accordance with law. If there is a natural body there is also a spiritual body — the latter is just as much in the Divine order of things as is the former — the creation is made and constituted for the higher spiritual body as much as for the lower natural body.(2) Its method is in accordance with law. First the God-given seed, then its quickening in the earth, then its springing up out of its earthliness into its own element, and its being clothed upon with its own proper form and texture, as God gives "to each seed a body of its own."(3) Its whole process is in accordance with law (vers. 46, 47). The apostle was not standing dazed before a miracle. He has caught a glimpse into the first principles of life which go deeper than death. He has learned that the resurrection is the promised fulfilment of the laws of life which have been with God from before the foundation of the world. The stars which differ in glory are no more miracles in the sky than is the resurrection of the dead to the apostle who had seen the risen Lord. The sun and the moon are no more exceptions to the ancient order of the heavens than the souls of men raised from the dead, and clothed upon with the shining glory of the celestial, are out of the Divine order and harmony to the eye of the apostle who has seen the risen Lord.
II. THE BIBLICAL TEACHING OF THE RESURRECTION IS THAT IT IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH LAW. WHY SHOULD IT SEEM OTHERWISE TO US?
1. Why should we regard it as a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? Is there anything which we have seen upon this earth which contradicts the spiritual law of our full redemption? Apparent con.tradictions to this gospel there are, but not one which is real. On the other hand, there are positive facts arranging themselves now in lengthening lines, over which we look straight out into the unseen and the eternal. As I cannot think of a star except as I think of it as in the sky, so I cannot think of this visible sphere of things or nature except as existing in some invisible realm and larger presence. And particularly in confirmation of this Scriptural faith in the Divine orderliness of the resurrection and eternal life, let me now merely suggest these considerations.(1) We do know this, that death is not the only law of nature; there is also the law of life.(2) It is a fact that of the two laws life, not death, is the higher and prevailing power so far as we can see. The earth was dead, so they tell us, ages ago. Now how this earth lives!(3) Even here, where death reigns, life has been growing higher, more complex, more capable of larger correspondences with things. Between the lowest living thing and the brain of man there is a difference of life wide as the distance between the earth and the heavens. Plainly, then, without any doubt, life is something stronger thus far upon this earth than death. Notwithstanding death, life grows to be more and richer.
2. But this is not all. What is death, so far as we can see? Here is a minute living thing in a glass of water. You turn the water out. That living particle is now mere dust upon the glass. Dead — that is, it is no longer moving in an element corresponding to its capacity of vital movements. Death, then, is simply some wrong or imperfect adjustment of life to external conditions. But death may be partial, then, not entire. A part of the body may be dead. A man may be dead in some relations, and still live in others. There is a sense in which we die daily. Life is the principle, the force, the law; death the limitation, the accident, the partial negation of God's great affirmation of life in things. Now see where this thought leads.(1) Death is the sundering of certain relations of life towards outward things.(2) Therefore, when the body finally is wholly dead and buried, when all these physical relations are wholly broken off, so much of life is certainly gone, but nothing else in a man, if there is anything more of him, is dead. "You may catch me if you can find me," said Socrates, as he let his body go. And the Scripture says, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
3. This view of the partial and negative power and function of death opens up a further rational possibility of life. We have only to suppose a living soul in perfect adjustment to God, and all God's laws of things, to conceive of a being possessing eternal life. "This is life eternal that they might know Thee," etc. In such perfect adjustment of being to God and His laws the finite spirit would exist in its final spiritual embodiment. Eternal life would be the perfect harmony of the inward and outward conditions — the final union of the spirit of the just made perfect with God and His universe. Conclusion: If these things be so it follows that our true life consists in our coming at once into the right correspondence with that which is the real and eternal element of life — with God and His righteousness. We are made to live in perfect harmony with all good, beautiful, and true things, or in communion with God. The only thing to be feared is spiritual death. That is non-adjustment of our hearts to God. There is one thing which I cannot but fear, and that is the loss of one's own soul. And I am afraid of the death which I see already going beyond the physical man, benumbing the conscience, and chilling the very souls of men. He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
(Newman Smyth, D.D.)
I. AN ESTABLISHED FACT. It is established —
1. On the testimony of the most competent witnesses — those who had a thorough knowledge of the facts, and such an invincible love for truth as would render it impossible for them to misrepresent them.
2. On the very existence of Christendom. What gave birth to Christendom? The gospel; and the truth of the gospel rests on the resurrection of Christ.
3. On the consciousness of genuine disciples. Such consciousness attests that they are "not in their sins," and they feel that this deliverance came from the gospel.
II. A SIGNIFICANT FACT. The reference here is to the "first-fruits" of the harvest (see Leviticus 23:12-19). Those first-fruits were both an earnest and a sample of the full harvest at hand. Hence Christ's resurrection was regarded —
1. As a pledge of the resurrection. As He rose so will all rise.
2. As a pattern. The sheaf waved before the Lord was a specimen or sample of what remained in the field to be gathered in. "Our vile bodies shall be fashioned and made like unto His glorious body" (vers. 21, 22).
III. AN INFLUENTIAL FACT. Between the influence of Adam and that of Christ on the race there is —
1. A resemblance. The resemblance is in its extensibility. Though Adam's influence upon the race is more extensive at present than that of Christ, it is not more extensible. It has in it the power of extending over the whole race down through all times, and it will do so.
2. A contrast. The influence of the one is destructive, the influence of the other quickening. If by death here bodily death is meant, then the idea is that Christ will quicken to life all that have died. But what does it mean to be in Adam and in Christ. In the sense of character. All men live in the characters of others; children in the character of their parents, pupils in their masters, the present generation in the preceding. The characters of the men of past ages constitute the moral atmosphere of existing men. In Adam's character — the character of selfishness, carnality, unbelief — all unregenerate men live to-day, his principles pulsate in all hearts. In the character of Christ, in His self-sacrificing love, spotless purity, and godly devotion, all the godly live to-day. Now those who live in the character of Adam must die, not merely in the sense of the dissolution of the soul from the body, but in the more awful sense of the dissolution of the soul from God; whereas those who live in the character of Christ live by a vital connection with the Eternal Fountain of all life.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)I. OUR LORD'S RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD IS THE PLEDGE AND EARNEST OF ALL CHRISTIAN HOPE.
1. That it should be the corner-stone of Christian doctrine strikes at the root of all religious theories which ignore the miraculous in Christianity. The story of Christ begins and closes with the supernatural — the incarnation and the resurrection.
2. It is constantly represented as the supreme fact in Christianity.(1) Christ often foretells it as such (Matthew 17:9; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; Matthew 12:40; John 2:19; John 11:25, etc.). He thus committed Himself to a test by which His claims might be proved, or the reverse.(a) If He did not rise men would know He was a self-deceiver, if not an impostor.(b) As the Holy Son of God He could not remain in the power of death, which is a penalty for sin.(c) As such, moreover, He might give Himself up to death for a time, to secure a great end in the economy of salvation, but He must have life, indestructible, in Himself — must rise.(2) The apostles made it the supreme fact in their preaching (Acts 4:2; Acts 1:22; Acts 4:33; Acts 23:6; Romans 4:1; Romans 6:5; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 3:21).
3. It was established by evidence which admitted no question in the mind of St. Paul, long the bitter opponent of Christianity (vers. 5-8).
II. WHY SO MUCH STRESS IS LAID ON THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.
1. It was the confirmation of all His promises as the founder of a new religion.(1) Had He lain in the grave the proof to which He appealed, of being sent to save men, would have been wanting.(2) His resurrection was a confirmation of His claims by the Eternal Father.(a) Of His claims to be an atoning sacrifice for sin. Of His being, in reality, the Son of God. "Declared to be the Son of God, with power," etc.(b) Of His having entered into His glory at the head of the new spiritual kingdom He had founded.(3) In the presence of His resurrection all doubts vanish from the minds of the apostles as to His being able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Him (vers. 14, 17-19; cf. Romans 8:34).(4) But, now that He is risen, all is bright with a glorious hope. "He was raised for our justification, having obtained eternal redemption for us." "We have an advocate with the Father." "He ever liveth to make intercession for us."
2. It was the pledge of our own resurrection and future happiness. The words spoken over the tomb of Lazarus come back with awful power from the heavens now Christ is risen .... I am the resurrection and the life." Those, also, spoken to His disciples — "Because I live ye shall live also."(1) In Him humanity conquered death. The destiny of man linked with Him. He is the first-fruits. the streamer that heralds the day. The bud of spring that foretells the glory of June.(2) He has thus brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The contrast between the darkness of the future before Christ and its holy radiance since. Caesar demanding that Cataline should be spared since death ended existence. Cicero bewailing his daughter's death without a ray of hope beyond earth.(3) Christ's resurrection has "begotten us again to a lively hope." It has attracted us to the eternal world as the home of our Elder Brother.
3. It is the constraining impulse to a holy life.(1) To be like Christ the ideal of His followers, since He showed us the path by which alone we can gain a happy immortality. Gratitude and love draws out the heart to an absolute devotion to His service, that service being a holy life. As He has risen, so we are constrained to seek a spiritual resurrection from our old selves to newness of life, to be like Him, and hereafter rejoin Him.(2) His resurrection has secured us heavenly grace to assist us on this course (Acts 2:23: John 16:7).(3) The resurrection of Christ is a pledge of the future triumph of His kingdom. "All power given Him in heaven and on earth." "He must reign."
(Cunningham Geikie, D.D.)I. THE PICTURES HERE GIVEN OF THE DEATH OF THE SAINTS.
1. As a sleep. Not that the soul sleeps, but the body in its lonely bed of earth, beneath the coverlet of grass, with the cold clay for its pillow.(1) With sleep we associate the ideas —(a) Rest. On yonder couch, however hard, the labourer shakes off his toil, the merchant his care, the thinker his difficulties, and the sufferer his pains. Sleep makes each night a Sabbath for the day. So is it with the body while it sleeps in the tomb. The weary are at rest; the servant is as much at ease as his lord.(b) Forgetfulness. The soul forgets not, and we have no reason to believe that the glorified are ignorant of what is going on below. But what do their bodies know? Take up the skull, see if there be memory there. See where once the heart was if there be any emotion there. Gather the bones, see if they are still obedient to muscles which could be moved at will as passing events might affect the mind.(c) Benefit. In the old tradition Medet, the enchantress, cast the limbs of old men into her cauldron that they might come forth young again. Sleep does all this in its fashion. The righteous are put into their graves all weary and worn, but such they will not rise.(2) The sleep of death is not —(a) A dreamy slumber. The involuntary action of the mind prevents us at times from taking rest in sleep. But not so with the dear departed. In that sleep of death no dreams can come.(b) A hopeless sleep. We have seen persons sleep who have been long emaciated by sickness, when we have said, "That eye will never open again; he will sleep himself into eternity." But it is not so here. They sleep a healthy sleep — they sleep to wake, and not to die the second death; go wake in joyous fellowship when the Redeemer stands in the latter day upon the earth.(3) Ought not this view of death to prevent our looking upon it in so repulsive a light? Did you ever feel horror at a sleeping child or husband or wife? And do not wish the departed back again. Would you wake your friend who has fallen asleep after excruciating pain?
2. As a sowing. The mould has been ploughed, and the husbandman scatters his seeds. They fall into the earth, the clods are raked over them, and they disappear. So it is with us. We call Death a reaper — I call him a sower. He takes these bodies and sows us broadcast in the ground. And if this is so let us have done with all faithless sorrow. "The granary is empty," says the farmer. Yes, but he does not sigh over it; for the seed is put into the ground in order that the granary may be filled again. "Our family circle has been broken," say you. Yes, but only broken that it may be re-formed. The stars are setting here to rise in other skies to set no more.
II. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AND THAT OF BELIEVERS. Some take very great delight in the hope that they may be "alive and remain" at the coming of Christ, but not to die would be to lose the great privilege of relationship with Christ as "the first-fruits." The allusion is to the Jewish feast, when the first sheaf was brought out from the harvest as a token of the whole, and first of all heaved upward as a heave-offering, and then waived to and fro as a waive-offering, being thus dedicated to God in testimony of the gratitude for the harvest. The Passover was celebrated first, then came a Sabbath-day, then after that came the feast of first-fruits. So Christ died on the Passover day, the next day was the Sabbatic rest. Christ's body therefore tarried in the grave; then early in the morning of the first day, the feast of the first-fruits, Christ rose. Christ was the first that rose —
1. In order of time. All who were raised before died again, and, with the exception of Lazarus, none were ever buried. Christ was the first who really rose no more to die. He leads the vanguard through the dark defile, and His brow first salutes the light of heaven, We admire the man who discovers a new country. Christ is the first who returned from the jaws of death to tell of immortality and light.
2. In point of cause; for as He comes back from the grave He brings all His followers behind Him in one glorious train. We read of Hercules descending into Hades and bringing up his friend. Verily went Christ thither, and He gave no sop to Cerberus, but cut off his head.
3. In point of pledge. The first-fruits were a pledge of the harvest.
4. As the representative of the whole. When the first-fruit sheaf had been waved before God it was considered that all the harvest had been brought into the sanctuary. So when Christ rose He consecrated the whole harvest. All the righteous dead were virtually risen in Him.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF THIS DOCTRINE.
1. Let us look well to the holiness of our bodies. "Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?" Now if our eyes look upon vanity we have defiled the windows of God's house; if our tongues speak evil we have desecrated its gates. Let us see to it that our feet carry us nowhere but where our Master can go with us, and that our hands be outstretched for naught but that which is pure and lovely.
2. Are we among those for whom Christ stands as first-fruits?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THAT WHICH IS THE GRAND PROPERTY OF EVERYTHING THAT BEARS FRUIT, GROWTH. As all men bear fruit of some kind, they are growing up from something and to something.
1. What, then, is the seed in our hearts from which we are growing? Is it the good seed of the Word of God? It is easy to determine. The manner of the plant's growth declares its seed.(1) Is there in the heart —
(a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (a) (b) (c) (d) 2. What is the fruit to which we are growing. There can be no doubt of a plant bearing its natural fruit, but there may be a doubt of its bearing fruit at all. But we hardly ever see worthless plants disabled from bearing fruit. Who ever saw the thistle blighted? It is the valuable fruits that are so uncertain, and the more precious they are so much the more tender they are, and require greater care to bring them to perfection, for they are not in their natural climate. And is the sinful world the natural climate for the precious fruits of holiness? No; all ungodliness thrives in it, blossoms without fail and in all abundance, and brings forth fruit most plentifully. But how different is it with the plant which comes up in the heart from the seed of the Word of God. The heat of temptation, the cold of indifference, the blight of unbelief, the floods of ungodliness, are all against it, and it requires to be nursed carefully, watched continually. II. ON OUR GROWTH, WHETHER FOR GOOD OR FOR EVIL FRUIT, DEPENDS OUR PLACE ON THE DAY OF THE HARVEST of which Christ is the first-fruits. Our characters are decided for holy or unholy when we go into the grave; our place is decided, for happiness or misery, on the day that we rise out of it. It is astonishing how watchful some men are in keeping out such thoughts; it would be well if others would be as watchful in keeping them in. A person may indeed look forward to a happy resurrection without attaining it, because he may delude himself with false hopes; but no one will ever attain a happy resurrection without looking forward to it. (R. W. Evans, D.D.)
(b) (c) (d) (e) (a) (b) (c) (d) 2. What is the fruit to which we are growing. There can be no doubt of a plant bearing its natural fruit, but there may be a doubt of its bearing fruit at all. But we hardly ever see worthless plants disabled from bearing fruit. Who ever saw the thistle blighted? It is the valuable fruits that are so uncertain, and the more precious they are so much the more tender they are, and require greater care to bring them to perfection, for they are not in their natural climate. And is the sinful world the natural climate for the precious fruits of holiness? No; all ungodliness thrives in it, blossoms without fail and in all abundance, and brings forth fruit most plentifully. But how different is it with the plant which comes up in the heart from the seed of the Word of God. The heat of temptation, the cold of indifference, the blight of unbelief, the floods of ungodliness, are all against it, and it requires to be nursed carefully, watched continually. II. ON OUR GROWTH, WHETHER FOR GOOD OR FOR EVIL FRUIT, DEPENDS OUR PLACE ON THE DAY OF THE HARVEST of which Christ is the first-fruits. Our characters are decided for holy or unholy when we go into the grave; our place is decided, for happiness or misery, on the day that we rise out of it. It is astonishing how watchful some men are in keeping out such thoughts; it would be well if others would be as watchful in keeping them in. A person may indeed look forward to a happy resurrection without attaining it, because he may delude himself with false hopes; but no one will ever attain a happy resurrection without looking forward to it. (R. W. Evans, D.D.)
(c) (d) (e) (a) (b) (c) (d) 2. What is the fruit to which we are growing. There can be no doubt of a plant bearing its natural fruit, but there may be a doubt of its bearing fruit at all. But we hardly ever see worthless plants disabled from bearing fruit. Who ever saw the thistle blighted? It is the valuable fruits that are so uncertain, and the more precious they are so much the more tender they are, and require greater care to bring them to perfection, for they are not in their natural climate. And is the sinful world the natural climate for the precious fruits of holiness? No; all ungodliness thrives in it, blossoms without fail and in all abundance, and brings forth fruit most plentifully. But how different is it with the plant which comes up in the heart from the seed of the Word of God. The heat of temptation, the cold of indifference, the blight of unbelief, the floods of ungodliness, are all against it, and it requires to be nursed carefully, watched continually. II. ON OUR GROWTH, WHETHER FOR GOOD OR FOR EVIL FRUIT, DEPENDS OUR PLACE ON THE DAY OF THE HARVEST of which Christ is the first-fruits. Our characters are decided for holy or unholy when we go into the grave; our place is decided, for happiness or misery, on the day that we rise out of it. It is astonishing how watchful some men are in keeping out such thoughts; it would be well if others would be as watchful in keeping them in. A person may indeed look forward to a happy resurrection without attaining it, because he may delude himself with false hopes; but no one will ever attain a happy resurrection without looking forward to it. (R. W. Evans, D.D.)
(R. W. Evans, D.D.)
(R. W. Evans, D.D.)