|« Prev||Sermon XXV. The Resurrection of the Body.||Next »|
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY.
“Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”
WHILE the apostles and the two disciples who had returned from Emmaus were speaking together of the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, He came and stood in the midst. They were “affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” He assured them that He was the same Lord with whom they had so long conversed; that He was no bodiless spirit, but the same man Jesus Christ.
From this we see that the very body which He took of the blessed Virgin, in which He “increased 365in wisdom and in stature/ which was also nailed upon the cross, was likewise raised from the dead. It was not another body like it, nor a mere appearance of His incarnate form; but the very same substantial and palpable frame which they were bidden to handle and see, in which He did “eat and drink” with them “after He rose from the dead.” It was a body capable of all the energies of life, susceptible of all the perfect affections of our manhood, but impassible and deathless: for it was no longer a mortal body, but an immortal; and yet it was a body still: as the “natural,” or animal body, of which St. Paul speaks, is a true body, not a disembodied life, so the “spiritual body” is a body, not a disembodied spirit. Therefore he says, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body: there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”106106 1 Cor. xv. 44. Either way, both before and after the resurrection, it is a true body. So here it was the same in all its identity; only a change had passed upon it: death had “no more dominion over” it: “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more.” His manhood was thence forward under the powers of “the spirit of life;” and in that human form He passed the closed doors, vanished out of the sight of Cleopas, and afterwards ascended into heaven.366
Now from this we may learn, in some measure, what shall be the resurrection of the flesh. We are told plainly, that it shall be the very same body we now dwell in, once more reorganised; purged of its earthly taint, and raised to the conditions of a spiritual life. To all questionings about the manner of this mystery, St. Paul answers, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.”107107 1 Cor. xv. 36-38. St. Paul does not more intend to silence a disputatious objector by a natural mystery, than to assert that the great laws of the natural world have their counterpart in the spiritual; that our dissolution is in order to our resurrection; and that the body which is buried is the seed and principle of the body which shall be raised. The ear of corn is not more contained in the seed than the spiritual body in the natural: in both there is identity of being, and development from weak beginnings to more perfect forms of life. It is therefore as plainly and as strictly true to say, that this very body shall rise again, as that this very seed shall spring into an ear; and that the glorified flesh of the saints is the very same 367they bore in suffering and death, as that the harvest of autumn is the very seed of spring. Of the mysterious changes and revolutions which fill up the interval between these two conditions of being, we know nothing; but there is a line of identity so running from each into the other as to make both one. Such, then, is the resurrection of the flesh.
There are some truths flowing from this doc trine, which we will now go on to consider.
1. We may learn, first, that the resurrection will be the restoration of the whole man, in spirit, and soul, and body; a restoration of all in which consists the integrity of our nature and the identity of our person. And this is emphatically the hope of the gospel. The light of nature could not shew this mystery. The heathen reached only to the immortality of the soul; and even that they saw but dimly, and often doubted. The sting of guilt, and the foreboding of conscience; the sense that the scheme of justice in this visible world is imperfect; and the instinct which feels after a retribution yet to come,—gave them some momentary insights into the world beyond the grave. They believed that there was a perfect justice somewhere above this wrongful world; and they could not but believe that, at some time, the inequalities of good and evil should be redressed; and they foreboded that the thinking, turbulent thing, which each man 368calls himself, must needs live on; their very hopes and fears prophesied of an hereafter. But for the body they knew not what to teach. They saw sickness fretting it away; old age bowing it down; death turning it into dust; the powers of nature taking it up into themselves; all that they saw looked on to dissolution: but that this corruptible and dissolving frame should ever be reorganised, nothing they saw and reasoned upon seemed to imply. They thought, therefore, that the world unseen should be peopled by spirits—a visionary world of bodiless shades—each still bearing his name and character, but so changed as to retain rather the likeness than the sameness of their former being.
It would seem, too, that even the elder Church saw this mystery in broken and uncertain lights. They knew, indeed, that some had never died; that some had passed in the body into an unknown state in the world unseen. Enoch and Elijah might teach them of the immortality of the flesh. They might also gather some thoughts of a resurrection from the remembrance of those who, having died, awoke again, and returned to the quick on earth, before they saw corruption: but that a body, once turned into dust, should be knit again in its former unity, that its perfect organisation should be again restored, they had neither seen nor imagined; 369unless, indeed, we may believe that, here and there, a seer, illuminated above his fellows, saw the approach of greater things than even he himself conceived; as, for instance, Job, who in a twofold sense might say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the lat ter day upon the earth; and though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.”108108 Job xix. 27. And so, it may be, the Lord led onward His prophet’s thoughts, when, in the valley of dry bones, He asked, “Son of man, can these bones live?”109109 Ezek. xxxvii. 3. And Daniel, we may believe, foresaw some great mystery, when he said, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake:”110110 Dan. xii. 2. and Isaiah, when he said, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”111111 Isaiah xxvi. 19. Without doubt, they saw as it were the refracted light of the coming mystery; but in some sense their eyes were holden, while they ministered to us greater things than they themselves conceived: for St. Paul declares that “life and immortality” are “brought to light through the 370Gospel.”112112 2 Tim. i. 10. It may be that we do not see more than they saw; but that what at best they saw dimly, we see with clearness of sight: and now every baptised child knows what sages doubtfully foreboded, and even prophets saw beneath a veil. Every Christian child knows that as Christ rose from the dead, in like manner shall we rise again, in all the fulness and sameness of our nature and our person; that we shall be at that day what we are now, save only that “mortality” shall be “swallowed up of life.” And yet when I say, every Christian child knows this, I do not mean, that any, even the wisest of the saints, can penetrate into the depths of the mystery. What inconceivable meaning may lie in the words, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;” or in the promise that “there shall be no more death,” so that death shall have “no dominion over” us: what mysterious change passed upon the father of us all in the day of the transgression, what cold, dissolving poison ran through his mortal body; or what quickening virtue, in the morning of the resurrection, shall once more restore our earthly frame, and knit again in one the dust we once inhabited, we know not. Life and death are alike beyond our grasp: all we know is, that as we die, so shall we rise; and that as we are here subject to the 371powers of dissolution, so we shall there be death less as the angels of God.
And as the resurrection is the perfect restoration of each several man, so shall it be of all man kind. They shall be as if they had never died. All the great stream of human life, issuing from the first living soul, and ever swelling itself by the multiplication of individual being, and the in crease of people and nations from age to age; all that have ever lived from the beginning, both the evil and the good; the righteous Abel, the first of saints that slept, and all they who have been gathered to the same paradise; and the first man, whosoever he be, that died in his sins, and all that have gone into the same abode of sorrow—all shall be raised to life, and all shall be immortal. The wicked shall be once more clothed in flesh and blood—even in that very same in which they sinned and died; but there shall have passed a change upon them, and they shall be endowed with capacities of suffering and a sense of agony which surpass the imaginations of our hearts. And in that awful nature they shall be for ever deathless: “In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it, and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them,”113113 Rev. ix. 6. Being itself shall become an intolerable anguish; much more when compassed about 372again with all the memorials and instruments of sin, with those very members wherewith they did despite unto the Spirit of grace. And so, likewise, shall it be with the holy dead: they shall be clothed with their hallowed flesh, but in a transfigured purity, the body of their humiliation being changed into the likeness of the body of His glory;114114 Phil. iii. 21. each in his measure, but all perfect; even as “there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory: so also is the resurrection of the dead.”115115 1 Cor. xv. 41, 42. All shall rise, “every man in his own order:” “the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them.”116116 1 Thess. iv. 16, 17. First the children of the kingdom, then the children of the wicked one,—multitudes that no man can number: two mighty companies, in one great family, gathered on the right hand and on the left of the Son of Man.
2. Now from what has been said, there is another truth which follows by an inference so direct as to be self-evident; and yet it is sometimes questioned. It is plain, then, that among those that are raised from the dead, there shall be a perfect recognition; and that not limited to the blessed, 373but, like the resurrection itself, comprehending the wicked also. It follows inseparably from the idea of personal identity, and the law of individual responsibility, that it should be so. Awful as the thought must be, we may not doubt that even in the outer darkness, they that have sinned together shall be conscious of their common anguish: and they that have here tempted their fellows in condemnation shall look in horror on the prey they have destroyed; and all the long-drawn consequences of their evil life shall be unfolded to their sight, in the misery of those that have fallen by their guilt: and in the kingdom of sorrow and spiritual wickedness, remorse, and revenge, and hate, and horror, and despair, and the implacable strife of wills that on earth consented to do evil, shall kindle and multiply the torment of lost souls; each one reflecting another’s agony, and making more intense the piercing energy of pain. But this is not the part of the subject that people are wont to doubt of. It seems in harmony with the laws of eternal right, that mutual recognition in the abodes of misery, and conscious privation of bliss, and of the fellowship of blessed souls known here, but parted from them hereafter, should enter into the portion of the reprobate. The difficulties all arise on the other side; and these we will now consider. Some people out of a coldness of heart, 374and many out of a hoping timidity, as fondly desiring what they hardly dare to hope, often ask, “Is it not too blessed to be true? Can it be? Shall we indeed know again all whom we have loved here?” Surely it must be so. How else shall we be then what we are now, if one-half of all our conscious being shall be annihilated? If memory, and knowledge, and love be so dim and overcast, as that we shall not remember, and know, and love with all the absolute fulness and identity of our present being, how shall we be perfect? This would be a retrogression in the order of intelligences, not an exaltation; a straitening, not an unfolding, of our spiritual life. But it is sometimes argued—“If we shall recognise all those whom we meet again, shall we not also remember those whom we miss from that blessed company? Will not the consciousness that some are wanting there embitter even the bliss of heaven? Will the fellowship of some we love fill the heart which yearns for those that appear not in glory? Will there not be even in heaven ‘a voice heard’ as in Ramah; ‘Rachel mourning for her children.’ and refusing ‘to be comforted for her children,’ because they are not?” These are hard reasonings, and too entangled that we should unravel them. But there are other, and those not less difficulties in the works of God; and yet the apostle thought them 375no hinderance to the mysteries of truth, nor any signs of wisdom in those that started them. Some before now have asked, “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” We therefore need not go far to put these questionings to silence. But, after all, they are doubts which not only oppose themselves in the attitude of objections, but shape themselves into fears; they thrust their way unbidden into shrinking minds, that would fain believe them false. What shall we say, then? God has not drawn up the veil, and we cannot pierce its folds. W^e may give, in deed, some sort of answer; but we cannot allay the unrest which these misgivings breathe into our minds. Let us, however, consider that God recognises all, both them that are saved, and them that perish; He loves them beyond all love of ours, and His bliss is perfect: in heaven we are made par takers as of His will, so of His bliss; and both in us shall be perfect too. This must be answer enough for the understanding; and until we “know even as we are known,” faith must make answer to our hearts.
But these were no doubtful questions in times of a livelier faith. “Shall there not be, beloved,” asked St. Austin, in preaching on the resurrection, “shall there not be a recognition of us all? Do ye think that ye shall recognise me then because 376ye know me now, and that ye shall not know my father whom ye have not known here, or the bishop who years ago ruled over this Church? Ye shall know all. They who shall be there, shall not therefore recognise each other because they shall behold his face; the mutual recognition of that place shall come from a higher knowledge. All shall see then, and much more excellently, as prophets here are wont to see. They shall see with a divine vision, when all shall be full of God.”117117 S. August. serm. in dieb. Pasch. ccxliii. 6. So they believed of old, and so may we stedfastly believe now. All the saints of God shall have a transcendent and intuitive knowledge, not sought out of the memory, nor gathered from experience, nor drawn from reasonings, but by insights, and consciousness, and beatific vision. Shall we not know angels; Gabriel, who was sent of God to Nazareth; and him, too, whose name was “secret?”118118 Judges xiii. 18. And shall we know the angels, and not know the saints of God? Shall we know the angel Gabriel, and not know the faithful Abraham? Shall we not behold patriarchs and prophets, and apostles and martyrs, Enoch and Moses, and John Baptist and the Blessed Virgin? Shall these be to us (to speak like heathen men) as nameless spirits and unknown shades; or shall they not be revealed 377in all the fulness of that mysterious individual perfection which we now by faith believe and celebrate? Yes, of a truth, they that have come from “the east and the west” to “sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven,” shall not fail to know them in that day. Surely we shall say, “Lo, there is he that never saw death; and there, the ‘man greatly beloved;’ and there, she that sat at the feet of Jesus, and the woman that stood behind Him weeping; and the disciple that lay on His bosom at that last sad supper; and there is he that thrice denied his Lord, and then wept bitterly; and there is the glorious apostle through whose preaching and martyrdom we ‘sinners of the Gentiles’ were bidden to the marriage-supper of the Lamb; and there are they that in the first age trod the purple path to a palm and crown; and they that, age aft^r age, followed the Lamb in sanctity and pureness: I have heard of them by hearsay, but now I see them each one face to face, as though I had lived and conversed with them in the days of the flesh.” And if we shall know them whom we have not seen, how shall we not know them whom we have. seen? Shall we recognise the objects of our faith, and not know the objects of our love? Shall we know those of whose presence our imaginations have wrought in vain to shape so much as an outline, 378and not know those with whom we have here companied through the long years of our earthly sojourn; whose form, and bearing, and speaking looks, and every visible movement, are interwoven with our very consciousness; who are so knit to us as to be all but our very selves? Such, indeed, is the hope of the Gospel, and the faith of the Catholic Church. Let no man defraud you of your joy. When any would try you with a doubt, make answer, “I believe . . . in the communion of saints . . . the resurrection of the body.” Say what you will, we are fools, and ye are wise; but, wise or foolish, this I know, we shall meet again even as we parted: yet not altogether; there shall be no more tokens of the fall, no more lines of sorrow, no more furrows of tears, no more distress, no more changes, no more fading, no more death; but all shall be fair, and radiant, and full of life, as in Him that said, “Behold . . . that it is I myself.”
There are one or two further remarks to be made on this doctrine, and with them I will conclude.
And first; it throws a great light upon the true doctrine of what the Church is. We are so inclined to take a shallow and external view of it^ and to limit its character and office to this world, and to the successions of time, that we miss the 379real nature of the visible Church. It is not a form or piece of mechanism, moulded by the human will, or put together for the uses and expedients of men and nations; but a mystery, partaking of a sacramental character, framed and ordained by God Himself. In a word, the Church is the root of the new creation, which shall be raised in its fulness at the last day; it is in part earthly, in part heavenly; it is both fleshly and spiritual, visible and invisible, mortal and immortal; “there is one body and one spirit.” And it is ever putting off its mortal shroud, casting its sere leaves upon the earth, and withdrawing its vitality into its hidden source. As the saints fall asleep one by one, the “dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns unto God that gave it.” And these two miracles are ever working; the bodies of the saints are dying daily, their spirits changing to the likeness of their Lord. The earth is sowing with holy dust; and the world unseen replenishing with the souls of the righteous. The Church is, in very truth, the kingdom of the resurrection; which in its secret beginnings is being “fashioned beneath in the earth:” and though it pass through miraculous changes, yet it is one and the same Church still, even as He was the same Christ both before and after He rose from the dead; not two, but one only; first mortal, afterwards immortal. So also 380is the spouse of Christ one and the same, both now and hereafter; now imperfect, ever changing, outwardly decaying, inwardly transfigured; here after perfect, changeless, glorious, and eternal. And even now already, in the clear foresight of the Everlasting, to whom all things are present in their fulness, it is complete in Christ. But to us who see only in part, and by broken aspects, and on the outer surface, it is imperfect, and to come; but flowing on, and continually unfolding itself from age to age. Such, then, is the Church.
And, lastly; we may learn what is the nature of the holy sacraments. Baptism is our first engrafting into the kingdom of the resurrection. We are thereby translated from the old creation to the new; from the powers of death to life. Our whole nature, in body, soul, and spirit, is made to partake of the resurrection of Christ, by the secret working of the same Spirit which raised Him from the dead. The nature which saw no corruption is the principle of an incorruptible life in us; so that it may be said of us, that we are “risen with Christ;” and that not only in figure, but in spirit; not only in pledge, but by unity with Him, who Himself is “the resurrection and the life.” And so, in like manner, the holy eucharist is the food of our risen life, the hidden manna, the bread of the resurrection. In it we feed on Him who is 381the power of immortality; we are made partakers of the glorified manhood of the second Adam, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh;119119 Eph. v. 30. and, being “joined to the Lord,” we are “one spirit.”
Therefore, brethren, as men baptised into Christ, and nourished with the living bread, you have been brought under the powers of the world unseen. The virtue of a holy resurrection is in your mortal bodies; the beginnings of the spiritual body are within you: cherish the gift you have received; beware how you wound or soil the holy thing “which by nature you could not have;” for immortality is a perilous endowment: whether in sorrow or in bliss, we must be deathless. And this our eternal destiny is now hanging in the balance. What more awful thought can the heart of man conceive than the fall of a regenerate spirit? what more fearful than the first movement towards declension? “for it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.”120120 Heb. vi. 4-6. The body with which we are clothed must either be quickened in holiness with our spirit, or it will turn back again toward the second 382death, and through it our spirit also become “twice dead.” In the faithful it is kept under, and held in check by “the powers of the world to come;” but in the faithless it is a haunt of impurity, and a minister of sin and hell. Let us watch against the carnal mind; for though it be thrust down from its dominion, yet the infection of our nature abides still in the regenerate. The immortality which is in us may yet become “earthly, sensual, devilish.” We may yet be doomed to an unhallowed resurrection, and to an endless life “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” But it is also a blessed thought, that there is a change awaiting us. After all our toiling and self-chastisement, there still remains with us a fast-cleaving and mysterious evil; and a deep consciousness is ever telling us that, do what we may, we must bear the grave-clothes of the fall till the morning of the resurrection; that we must suffer under the load of an imperfect nature, until God shall resolve our sullied manhood into its original dust, and gather it up once more in a restored purity. The hope of the resurrection is the stay of our souls when they are wearied and baffled in striving against the disobedience of our passive nature. At that day we shall be delivered from the self which we abhor, and be all pure as the angels of God. O healing 383and kindly death, which shall refine our mortal flesh to a spiritual body, and make our lower nature chime with the Eternal will in faultless harmony! Let us, then, as they that in pledge and promise are risen with Christ, so live in sympathy with the ..world to come, that death, and the resurrection of the dead, may be not so much a change in our earthly life as the crown of its perfection. Let us so live that our earthly course may run on into eternity, and be itself eternal. Let us never doubt, because we see no visible tokens to bespeak the virtue which is passing on us. The Church itself is but a fellowship of men that shall die; but yet she is “all glorious within.” Wait till the morning of the new creation, and then shall all be revealed; and the body, which now shrouds the spirit, shall be as clear as the noon-day light; and then shall be seen openly what now is shrined within; and “the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”121121 St. Matt. xiii. 43.
|« Prev||Sermon XXV. The Resurrection of the Body.||Next »|