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THE CERTAINTY AND THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE RESURRECTION OF TRUE CHRISTIANS.
For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.—1 Thess. iv. 14.
THE words which I have read are an argument of the blessed resurrection of good men to eternal life, grounded upon the resurrection of Christ. In the verse before the apostle comforts Christians, concerning their brethren that were already departed in the faith of Christ, that there was no reason why they should so immoderately grieve for them. “But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others that have no hope;” that is, as the heathens do, who mourn for their dead friends in so grievous a manner, as if they were utterly extinguished by death, and they had no imagination of any life beyond this. And thus we find the apostle elsewhere describing the state of the heathen world: (Eph. ii. 12.) that “they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope.”
But Christians should not mourn for their deceased friends as the heathen were wont to do, who had no hope of a better life; because Christians profess to believe that Christ is risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven: “for if we believe that 127Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”
There are two things to be explained in the words before we come to consider the matter of them:
First, What is meant by those that sleep in Jesus.
Secondly, What by God’s bringing them with him.
First, What is meant by those that sleep in Jesus. Sleep is a metaphor used for death by all sorts of writers, profane and sacred; and by the ancient Christians, the place of burial was called κοιμητήριον, that is, “a sleeping-place.” This metaphor is sometimes applied to the death of the wicked, but most frequently used of the death of the righteous, because to them it is truly a rest. And so the prophet, speaking of the death of the righteous, calls it: (Isa. lvii. 2.) “They shall enter into peace, they shall rest in their beds.”
And the death of the righteous is very fitly called a sleep, both as it is a rest from labour and pain: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labour;” (Rev. xiv. 13.) and, likewise, because sleep is not final, but in order to waking again. The death of the righteous is not an eternal sleep of the body, but that shall be awakened in the morning of the resurrection.
But why is the death of good men called a sleeping in Jesus? διὰ Ἰησοῦ, “for Jesus sake;” which may seem to have some particular relation to those who died martyrs for Christ; as some likewise understand that text, (Rev. xiv. 13.) “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,” that is, that suffer for his cause; “for they rest from their labours,” that is, their sufferings are then at an end. But we 128shall best understand the meaning of this phrase by comparing it with those others which seem to be equivalent to it, as (1 Cor. xv. 18.) They also that are fallen asleep in Christ; (ver. 23.) “They that are Christ’s at his corning;” that is, they that belong to him, that died in the faith of Christ. So likewise is this, (1 Thess. iv. 10.) “The dead in Christ shall rise first;” that is, the Christians that are dead before the coining of Christ, shall first be raised, be fore those that are alive shall be changed. (Heb. xi. 13.) “All these died in faith;” that is, in firm belief of God’s promise of a better life. So that to sleep in Christ, to be Christ’s, to die in Christ, to die in the faith, do all seem to signify the same thing; viz. to die in the state of true Christians. For so we understand the like expressions of being in Christ: (Rom. viii. 1.) “He that is in Christ,” that is, every sincere Christian; and of abiding in Christ: (John xv. 4.) “He that abideth in me.” So to die in Christ, is to die a true Christian, in the faith and obedience of the gospel.
And it is observable, that, in the phrase and style of the New Testament, we are said to die all in and with Christ; to be in him, and to live in him, and to walk in him, by our sanctification and obedience; to die with him, by the mortification of our lusts; to rise with him, by our renovation to a new life; to ascend with him into heaven, and to have our life hid with Christ in God, by our heavenly affections and hopes; and, by death, to sleep in him.
But before I pass over this phrase of sleeping in Jesus, there is one difficulty more about the sleep of the soul, which seems to be countenanced from this text: “Those that sleep in Jesus, shall God with him; as if the apostle spake here of the 129souls of good men which had been asleep, and Christ should bring with him to be united to their bodies, which should be raised; as, likewise, from the whole tenor of the apostle’s discourse about the resurrection, (1 Cor. xv.) where the apostle says nothing of the living of the soul before the body be raised; as if the soul separated from the body were in a state of insensibility till the resurrection. But the true answer to this is, that neither our Saviour, in his discourse of the resurrection, nor St. Paul, in the 15th chapter to the Corinthians, nor here, in this text, do keep closely to the proving of the resurrection of the body; but of a blessed immortality after this life, against the Sadducees, who said, “there was no resurrection,” neither angel nor spirit. But sometimes they prove that there is a life after death, and sometimes that, at the resurrection, the soul shall be joined to a spiritual and heavenly body, and that the whole man shall enjoy perfect bliss and happiness.
But this opinion, or rather dream, concerning the sleep of the soul from the time of death, that is, from the time of the separation of the soul from the body till the general resurrection, may be effectually confuted these two ways:
1. By taking away the ground of it: and,
2. By producing several texts of Scripture, which are utterly inconsistent with it. And this I shall the rather do, because some men have taken a great deal of pains to establish and prove this opinion; though I confess I do not well understand to what end, because there is as little comfort as truth in it.
1. By taking away the only ground that I know of, of this opinion; and that is, from the frequent metaphor and resemblance in Scripture of death to 130sleep. And, indeed, those which are dead are frequently in Scripture said to sleep, or to be fallen asleep: but then (which falls out very cross to this opinion) this metaphor of sleep is no where in Scripture applied to the soul, but to the body resting in the grave, in order to its being awakened and raised out of this sleep at the resurrection. And thus it is frequently used, with express reference to the body; (Dan xii. 2.) “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake;” and surely sleeping in the dust of the earth can only be applied to the body. And more expressly yet: (Matt. xxvii. 52.) “And the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints, which slept, arose.” (Acts xiii. 36.) “David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.” Now that of David which fell asleep, and was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption, was certainly his body: and that of our Saviour which was raised again, and saw no corruption, was likewise his body, according to that prediction concerning him: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” in Hades, by which is plainly meant the state and place of souls separated from the body; a nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption;” that is, the body of our blessed Lord to rot in the grave. (1 Cor. xv. 20.) “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept;” that is, the resurrection of his body out of the grave, is an earnest and assurance that our bodies also shall be raised. And, (ver. 51.) “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed;” where the apostle undoubtedly speaks both of the death and change of these corruptible bodies. And 131so, likewise, the text is to be understood of the resurrection of the bodies of the saints, which shall be raised up by the sound of the great trumpet, and reunited to their souls, that they may in person accompany Christ at his coming. So that it is the body, which is every where said in Scripture to sleep, and not the soul; and, if so, then the only foundation of this opinion is taken away.
2. I shall shew, that this opinion of the sleep of the soul is utterly inconsistent with several passages of Scripture, which plainly suppose the contrary; as (Luke xvi. 22, 23.) where, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the different states of good and bad men, immediately after their departure out of this life, are described; but they are so described, that it is evident that the souls of neither of them are asleep. It is said of Lazarus, that “he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom,” and that there he was comforted; and of the rich man, that he was in hell, and there tormented in flames. This was not like to be a state of sleep and insensibility, and the rich man cries out of his torment; and that we may be sure he was awake, he is said to “lift up his eyes.” And there is all the reason that can be to conclude, that Lazarus was every whit as sensible of the comfort and happiness that he was in, as the rich man was of his torment. Luke xxiii. 43. where our Saviour says to the penitent thief, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise:” but not surely to sleep there till the resurrection. “Though some have endeavoured to avoid the force of this text, by referring this day to what goes before, and not to what follows after; as if our Saviour had said, I say unto thee this day; and not, “this day thou shalt be with me in 132paradise:” which is a foolish evasion, because, I say unto thee necessarily implies the present time, and there is no need to add, “this day;” besides, that there is no such phrase any where used, as, I say unto thee this day. (Phil. i. 23.) “I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.” But if to be with Christ, be to be in a state of sleep and insensibility, how is that so much better than to be in the body, serving God and his church? (2 Cor. v. 6.) “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we sojourn in the body we are absent from the Lord; we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” But certainly, to be “present with the Lord,” which the apostle here affirms that good men are, so soon as they depart out of the body, must needs signify a state of happiness; which sleep is not, but only of insensibility. Besides that, the apostle’s argument would be very flat, and but a cold encouragement to Christians against the fears of death, that as soon as we are dead, we shall fall asleep and become insensible. But the apostle useth it as an argument, why we should be willing to die as soon as God pleaseth, and the sooner the better; because so soon as ever we quit these bodies, we shall be “present with the Lord,” that is, shall be admitted to the blissful sight and enjoyment of him; and that, whilst we abide “in the body,” we are detained from our happiness. But if our souls sleep as well as our bodies till the general resurrection, it is all one whether we continue in the body or not, as to any happiness we shall enjoy in the meantime; which is directly contrary to the main, scope of the apostle’s argument.133
Secondly, What is here meant by God’s bringing with him those “that sleep in Jesus?” In general these words signify a blessed resurrection, as may be seen by the opposition: “If we believe that Jesus died, and rose again; even so them also that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with him.” Whereto Christ’s death is opposed our sleeping in Jesus; and, to his resurrection, God’s bringing us with him; that is, his raising us out of the grave to accompany him at his coming. But the meaning of this expression will best appear, by considering what follows after the text: “for this we say by the word of the Lord,” that is, by special revelation, “that we that are alive, and remain, at the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them that are asleep;” that is, we shall not be taken up into heaven, before the saints who are already dead shall be raised; but thus it shall be: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” The plain meaning of all which is, that first the dead in Christ shall be raised and taken up to him in the air, to accompany him at his corning, and thus he shall bring them with him; and then those, which are alive at his coming, shall be changed and taken up likewise, “to meet the Lord in the air.” And the same account the same apostle gives us: (1 Cor. xv. 51, 52.) “Behold, (says he) I shew you a mystery,” (which is the same he had said before in the former text, this we say unto you by the word of the Lord)—“I shew you a mystery,” (so he calls that which was not revealed to all by our Saviour, but to himself particularly) 134“we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed;” that is, all shall not die, but at the coining of Christ many shall be found alive and changed; but these shall have no advantage of those who were dead in Christ before: for “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the dead shall be raised incorruptible;” that is, with spiritual bodies, which will be no more liable to corruption; “and we,” that is, those that remain then alive, “shall also be changed.” From all which it appears, that the meaning of this expression, “those that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with him,” is this: that the Lord Jesus shall come “in the clouds of heaven, in the glory of his Father,” and by the sound of the trump of God shall raise the dead in Christ. And our Saviour tells us more particularly, that this shall be done by the ministry of angels. (Matt. xxiv. 30, 31.) When the Son of man comes “with power and great glory,” that the angels shall with the great sound of the trumpet gather the “elect from the four winds;” and, when they are thus gathered, God shall bring them with him.
And here I cannot but observe, that the title of God is given to our Saviour, who is to be judge of the world. “Them that sleep in Jesus, shall God bring with him.” And elsewhere our apostle, speaking of this glorious appearance and corning of Christ to judgment, calls him the great God: (Tit. ii. 13.) “Looking for the blessed hope, and glorious appearance, of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Which cannot be understood of the appearance of two persons, viz. God the Father, and his son Jesus Christ our Saviour; for then the article would have been added to distinguish them, and it would not have been καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν, but καὶ τοῦ 135σωτῆρος ἡμῶν; as if he had said, “the appearance of the great God and of Jesus Christ our Saviour;” when as, according to the propriety of the Greek, the article being wanting, it ought to be rendered thus: “looking for the appearing of Jesus Christ the great God and our Saviour.” This is very much confirmed, in that the same apostle here in the text, speaking of Christ’s coming to judgment, calls him God, them “shall God bring with him.”
The words, thus explained, give us this observation; that it is a firm principle of the Christian religion, that those, who die in the faith of Christ, that is, in the state of true Christianity, shall have a blessed resurrection. “If we believe, (saith the apostle) that Jesus died, and rose again; even so them also, that sleep in him, shall God bring with him.” The apostle to the Hebrews reckons the “resurrection of the dead, “among the principles of the doctrine of Christ. (Heb. vi. 2.)
In speaking to this observation, I shall do these three things:
First, I shall shew what it is to die in the faith of Christ, or in the state of a true Christian, which is here called sleeping in Jesus.
Secondly, I shall shew how the death and resurrection of Christ are an argument and proof of our resurrection from the dead. And,
Thirdly, Wherein the blessedness of the resurrection of the just doth consist.
First, What it is to die in the faith of Christ, or in the state of a true Christian, which is here called sleeping in Jesus. And this imports one of these two things; either,
1. That we die in such a belief of the doctrine of Christ, as hath been accompanied with a holy obedience 136of life, to the commands and precepts of the gospel; that our profession of the Christian religion hath evidenced itself in the virtues of a good life, in the constant course and tenor of a holy and unblameable conversation. This assurance the Christian religion gives us, that if we have our fruit unto holiness, our end shall be everlasting life.
Or else, 2. That we exercise such a sincere and unfeigned repentance before death for the errors and miscarriages of our lives, as produceth a firm purpose and resolution of amending our lives, if God should be pleased to prolong and continue them. For only such a belief and profession of the Christian religion, as produceth one of these effects, doth put us into a state of grace, and give us hope of a blessed resurrection to eternal life.
The first of these effects is much to be preferred, viz. the general course and tenor of a holy life; the latter being infinitely more hazardous, by reason of the deceitfulness of our hearts, and the infinite uncertainty of a death-bed repentance.
Secondly, I shall shew how the death and resurrection of Christ are an argument and proof of our resurrection from the dead. “If we believe,” &c.
I shall shew, by and by, how the resurrection of Christ is an argument and proof of our resurrection. But why is his death here mentioned, as part of the argument? “If we believe that Christ died.” The reason is obvious; because the truth of the miracle of his resurrection depends upon the reality of his death; for if Christ was not really dead, then he could not rise from the dead, and the pretence of his resurrection was a delusion and imposture: but if he was really dead, and rose again from the dead, then have we a firm ground for the belief of a future resurrection. 137Now this Christians do believe, that Christ was really dead, and rose again from the dead, and that upon very good grounds. We need not doubt but that the malice of the Jews took care 1o kill him; and the story makes it evident, because blood and water came out of his side, which is a certain proof that his heart was pierced; and it could not be a deliquium, or a fainting fit, because, after his blood was exhausted, he could not naturally return to life again. But we need not contend much about this, since the heathens who are unconcerned confess this. Tacitus, in the 15th book of his Annals, tells us, that “Jesus was put to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.” And Josephus, who was a Jew both by his birth and religion, and lived presently after our Saviour’s time, in the 18th book of his Jewish Antiquities, tells us, that “Christ was crucified, and that he appeared to his followers the third day, risen from the dead.”
Now this cannot, in reason, be said to be done only in appearance, and to be a mere illusion of men’s senses, as some ancient heretics pretended; because that which may be an evasion in any case, is to be admitted in none. For what greater evidence is possible of any one’s rising from the dead, than the circumstances of our Saviour’s resurrection? That there was a great earthquake, and that the stone was rolled away from the grave, and the grave-clothes found there, and his body gone; and that after this he appeared and conversed so often with so many, to whom he was well known when alive, and entertained long discourses with them, and did eat and drink with them, and permit them to handle his body, and to put their fingers into the wound of his side; and all this exactly agreeing 138with his own prediction. So that, if we believe the providence of God, we cannot think it to be so little vigilant, as that men, after their utmost care, must necessarily be deluded in a matter of so great consequence.
Now I shall shew, that the death and resurrection of Christ is a very good argument of our resurrection. (1 Cor. xv. 20.) Christ is said to be “risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” Not that he was the first that was raised from the dead; for Elijah and Elisha raised some, and so did our Saviour himself in his life-time: but the apostle here alludes to the “first-fruits” among the Jews, which were a pledge and an earnest of a future harvest. In like manner, the resurrection of Christ is called the “first-fruits of them that slept,” because it is an earnest of that general harvest, which should be at the end of the world, when “the angels, the reapers, shall come to gather the elect from the four winds.” But the resurrection of others before Christ was no earnest of this, because they “were raised/ but Christ is said to “rise from the dead by his own power.” And in this sense he is truly said by St John (Rev. i. 5.) to be “the first-begot ten from the dead.” And this secures our resurrection to eternal life; because he who hath promised to raise us up, did “raise himself from the dead.”
And that Christ intended to lay great stress upon this argument, appears in that he foretold it so often, as the great sign that he would give to the Jews to convince their infidelity. (John ii. 18, 19.) “The Jews said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us; Jesus answered, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days; v speaking of the temple of his body. And] (Matt. xii. 39, 40.) he tells the 139Jews, that he would give them “no other sign but the sign of the prophet Jonah,” that “as he was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so should the Son of man be three days in the bowels of the earth.”
Now the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and, which was consequent upon it, his ascension into heaven, does first give us satisfaction in general of another life after this, and an immortality after death; and then of his power to raise us from the dead, because “he raised himself;” as the apostle argues: (Rom. viii. 11.) “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in yon, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit which dwelleth in you.” And then, lastly, it secures us of his truth and fidelity, that he will perform what he hath promised us. He could not have promised any thing more improbable than this, that he himself would rise again the third day; and therefore, since he kept his word in this, there is no reason to distrust him in any thing else that he hath promised. By his own resurrection from the dead, he wrought such a miracle, as is the most proper to confirm us in the belief of our resurrection to eternal life: (Rev. i. 18.) “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and be hold I am alive for evermore, Amen, Amen.” What is that? we have it explained, (Rev. iii. 14.) where he says of himself, “I am the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” This very thing, that Christ was dead, and lives again, makes him the “Amen, the true and faithful witness.” I proceed to the
Third and last thing, viz. Wherein the blessedness of the resurrection of the just shall consist; namely, in these two things:140
I. In the mighty change which shall be made in these vile and mortal bodies of ours, and the glorious qualities they shall then be invested withal. And,
II. In the consequent happiness of the whole man, of the soul and body united and purified.
I. In the mighty change which shall be made in these vile and mortal bodies of ours, and the glorious qualities which they shall then be invested withal. But wherein this glory shall consist, because it is matter of pure revelation, we must wholly rely upon Scripture for the particular account and explication of it. And there are three texts of Scripture, wherein this glorious change, which shall be made in our bodies at the resurrection, is more particularly mentioned and described. The
First is, (Luke xx. 35, 36.) “But they, who shall be counted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” This our Saviour speaks, because that, which occasioned this discourse concerning the resurrection, was a question moved by the Sadducees concerning a woman that had seven husbands in her life-time; upon which they captiously asked our Saviour, Whose wife of the seven this woman should be at the resurrection? To which our Saviour answers, by taking away the foundation of it, telling them, that in the other world “they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” And the reason of this is very obvious; because the reason why men marry now is, because they are mortal, and therefore to preserve and propagate the kind, which would otherwise fail, marriage was instituted: but in the other world this reason will cease; because then men shall be immortal and die no more. And, therefore, our Saviour, after he had 141said, that “at the resurrection of the dead, men neither marry, nor are given in marriage,” he immediately adds, as the reason of it, “neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels, that is, they shall be like them in the immortal duration of their beings; “and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” Good men are now “the children of God,” because they resemble him in the holy disposition of their minds: but then they shall be like him in the participation of his happiness, so far as finite and created beings are capable; the whole man, the body as well as the soul, shall be partakers of immortality. And this is a glorious change for a frail and mortal body, liable to pains, and diseases, and death, to become immortal, and freed from all those troublesome accidents to which they are now liable. The
Second text to this purpose is, (Phil. iii. 20.) “But our conversation is in heaven,” says St. Paul, speaking of true and sincere Christians; “but our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working of that mighty power, whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself.” And this is a great change indeed, whether we consider what our bodies now are, vile and corruptible; or the pattern according to which they shall be changed: “they shall be fashioned like to the glorious body of our blessed Saviour;” that wherein he now sits in the highest heavens, at the right hand of the throne of God. And what glory can we desire beyond that, with which God thought fit to reward his own Son, after all his obedience and sufferings? And this will be 142the more credible, if we consider the relation which the Scripture so often mentions between Christ and all true Christians. He is the head, and they are the members; now there must be a conformity between these. A glorious head and vile members would make a monstrous and irregular body; nay, the head could not be glorious, if the members were not so too. Or, lastly, if we consider the mighty power which will be put forth for the effecting this change. The omnipotency of the Son of God will exert itself in this work. So the apostle here tells us, that “the Lord Jesus Christ will change our vile body, according to the working of that mighty power, whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself.” Omnipotency will display its whole force in bringing about this change. And what cannot that Almighty power do, which is able to conquer and subdue all things?
The third text, and that wherein this change is most fully and particularly described, is, (1 Cor. xv. 35.) “But some will say, How are the dead raised? And with what bodies do they come!” This was the common objection which the infidels made against this article of the resurrection: either men shall rise with the same bodies which they had in this life; or they shall not. If with the same bodies which they had in this life, to what purpose will that be? Since in the other world men shall not eat, or drink, or propagate their kind, and consequently have no use of such a body as ours now is: but if it be not the same body, how then are men’s bodies raised? To this question, the apostle gives a clear answer; that the bodies of men which shall be raised, shall in some respects be the same, and in other respects not the same; the matter and substance of 143the body may still be the same, and yet may under go a mighty change, be fashioned after another manner, and be endowed with quite other qualities than it had before. And this he illustrates by two instances.
1. By the difference between the com which is sown, and that which grows up. And,
2. By the difference of several sorts of bodies, which are all made of the same kind of matter.
1. From the difference between the corn which is sown, and that which is grown up: (ver. 36-38.) “Thou fool, that which thou so west is not quickened except it die;” that is, unless it be first buried in the earth, and rot, and be corrupted there; “and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body which shall be, but bare grain, as of wheat, or some other kind.” “But bare grain;” that is, a naked grain, without either stalk, or blade, or ear: “but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him;” that is, the Author of nature makes it spring up in a blade, which grows up into a stalk, which bears an ear which contains many grains of corn; “and to every seed his own body;” that is, a body of the same kind with the seed that was sown.
2. The other instance is from the difference of several sorts of bodies, which are all made of the same kind of matter, put into different forms, some more perfect and glorious, and others less: (ver. 39-41.) “All flesh is not the same flesh; but there is one flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds;” and yet all these are fashioned out of the same kind of matter. “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another;” and the celestial bodies are of a 144different lustre and glory; “for there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; and one star differeth from another star in glory.”
And then he applies these instances to the resurrection: (ver. 42.) “So also is” it in “the resurrection of the dead.” This matter, which was vile before, when it was buried in the earth, puts on another form, and by the power of God is raised up a different thing, and far more glorious than when it was put into the earth: (ver. 42-44.) “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural (or an animal) body, it is raised a spiritual body.” I shall briefly explain these several expressions, which represent to us the difference between our bodies, as they now are, and as they shall be at the resurrection.
“It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.” Our bodies, as they are now, are unequally tempered, and in a perpetual flux and change, continually tending to corruption, being made of such contrary principles and qualities, as by their perpetual confliction do conspire the ruin and dissolution of it. But when they are raised again, they shall be so tempered and refined, as to be free from all these destructive qualities, which threaten a change and dissolution; “they shall be raised incorruptible,” so as not to be liable to decay and death. The body, though it continues still material and consists of matter, shall then partake of the immortality of the soul to which it is united, and be of equal duration with it. So the apostle tells us: (ver. 52, 53.) “The dead shall be raised incorruptible; 145for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
“It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.” Our bodies, when they are committed to the earth, are vile offensive carcasses, and therefore we hide and bury them out of sight: but they shall be raised beautiful and glorious, as different from what they were before, as the heavenly mansions, in which they are to dwell for ever, are from the dark cell of the grave, out of which they are raised: and they that before were only fit company for dust and worms, shall be admitted into the reviving presence of God, and the blessed society of angels.
“It is sown in weakness, it shall be raised in power.” Our bodies now fall to the ground through their own frailty, and drop into the grave through the weakness and infirmity of nature to support and bear them up any longer: but though they fall through weakness, they shall at the resurrection be endowed with such a life, and strength, and vigour, as to be able, without any change or decay, to abide and continue for ever in the same state.
“It is sown a natural body,” ψυχικὸν, “an animal body,” an earthly cottage or tabernacle fitted for the soul to lodge in for a little while, “but it is raised a spiritual body.” And this is the sum of all the rest. Our bodies in this world are gross flesh and blood, liable to be affected with natural and sensual pleasures, and to be afflicted with natural pains and diseases, to be pressed with natural necessities of hunger and thirst, and obnoxious to all those changes and accidents to which natural things are subject: but it shall be “raised a spiritual body,” pure and refined from the dregs of matter: it shall not hunger nor thirst, be diseased or in pain 146any more. These “houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust,” are continually decaying, and therefore they stand in need of perpetual reparation by food and physic: but “our house, which shall be from heaven,” shall be of such lasting and durable matter, as not only time, but even eternity itself, shall make no impression upon it, or cause the least decay in it. “They who shall be accounted worthy (says our Saviour) to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, cannot die any more; but shall be like the angels, and are the children of God;” that is, in some degree shall partake of the felicity and immortality of God himself, who is “always the same, and his years fail not.”—“It is raised a spiritual body.” We shall then be, as it were, all spirit, and our very bodies shall be then raised and refined, that they shall be no clog, no impediment to the operations of our souls. And surely we cannot but think this a glorious change, when we consider how our bodies do now crush our spirits, and what a melancholy and dead weight they are upon them, and how grievous an incumbrance, and trouble, and temptation they are, for the most part, to us in this mortal state. I proceed now to the
II. Second thing, wherein the blessedness of the just at the resurrection shall consist, viz. in the consequent happiness of the whole man, of the soul and body united and purified; the one from sin, the other from frailty and corruption; and both admitted to the blessed sight and enjoyment of the ever-blessed God. But this is an argument too big for our narrow apprehensions of things, whilst we are in this mortal state; a subject too unwieldy for such children as the wisest of us all are while we are in this world; and, whenever we attempt to speak of it, 147we do but speak like children, and understand like children, and reason like children, about it. “That which is imperfect must be done away;” our souls must be raised to a greater perfection, and our understandings filled with a stronger and steadier light, before we can be fit to handle such a subject, according to the worth and dignity of it. We must first have been in heaven, and possessed of that felicity and glory which is there to be enjoyed, before we can think or talk of it, in any measure as it deserves. In the mean time, whenever we set about it, we shall find our faculties oppressed with the weight and splendour of so vast and glorious an argument; like St. Paul, who, when he was caught up into paradise, saw and heard that, which, when he came down into this world again, he was not able to express, and which is not possible for man to utter.
So that, in discoursing of the state of the blessed, we must content ourselves with what the Scripture hath declared in general concerning it, that it is a state of perfect freedom from all those infirmities and imperfections, those evils and miseries, those sins and temptations, to which we are liable in this world; a state of unspeakable and endless joy and happiness in the blessed sight and presence of God, and in the happy society of “an innumerable company of an gels,” and of the “spirits of just men made perfect.”
So St. John describes the felicities and glories of that state, as they were represented to him in a vision: (Rev. xxi. 2-4.) “And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I. heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be 148their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away;” that is, all those evils which we saw and suffered in this world, will for ever vanish and disappear. (And ver. 23.) “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light there of.” And, which is the greatest privilege and felicity of all, no sin shall be there: (ver. 27.) “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth:” and consequently no misery and curse shall be there: (chap. xxii. 3, 4.) “And there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God, and of the Lamb, shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face.” In which last words, our employment and our happiness are expressed; but what in particular these shall be, and wherein they shall consist, it is impossible for us now to describe: it is sufficient to know, in general, that our employment shall be our unspeakable pleasure, and every way suitable to the glory and happiness of that state, and as much above the noblest and most delightful employment of this world, as the perfection of our bodies, and the powers of our souls, shall then be above what they were in this world.
In a word, our happiness shall be such as is worthy of the great King of the world to bestow upon his faithful servants, and infinitely beyond the just reward of their best services; it is “to see God, and to be ever with him, in whose presence is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore.”149
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