The GOSPEL TRUTH
Sermons on the Resurrection:
THE PIOUS DEAD ARE LOST -- LIVING BELIEVERS ARE MISERABLE
Robert S. Candlish
"Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" -- I Corinthians 15:18, 19
This is the climax and close of the apostle's argument concerning the resurrection, in its negative form. He reasons with the deniers of the possibility of a resurrection, after the manner of what is technically called in logic reductio ad absurdum; pointing out the conclusion in which their doctrine must, by a few mort and necessary steps, inevitably land them.
This is a perfectly legitimate and warrantable mode of reasoning, if, in using it, I avoid the too common unfairness of imputing to my adversary the actual holding of dogmas, or principles, which may stem to me to follow from the proposition he is maintaining, but which he himself does not see or admit to be implied in it. To candid minds, it is a mode of reasoning fitted to be very convincing. Show me that my views, if reasoned out, or acted out, lead to consequences from which I recoil as much as you do; and I cannot but be moved to reconsider the grounds on which I have adopted them.
In the present instance, it is a most fair, and what is more, a most affectionate, appeal.
Have you thought seriously of the bearing of your new belief on your Saviour's work, and on your own faith and hope? Study it, and look at it, in that light. Surely you must perceive, that at all events, and in the first place, it involves a denial of the resurrection of Christ. However you may try to explain the fact of the Lord's empty sepulchre, and these strange words, reported to have been uttered by him, "Handle me, and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and hones, as ye see me have," it must have been a spirit after all that spoke. It might be Christ as he disappeared, when having cried with a loud voice, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," he gave up the ghost. It could not be Christ with anything about him of that material frame which thereafter hung for a little longer, empty, on the cross, and was then hastily buried in Joseph's tomb, Your doctrine, that there is no resurrection of the dead, with the ground on which you defend it, ---the essential vileness of matter, and its incompatibility with a perfect state of being, -- makes that impossible. Plainly, if there be no resurrection of the dead, Christ is not risen, Are you prepared to face such a result of your philosophy?
Then you must he prepared to face also what immediately follows from it. I do not speak of your virtually giving the lie to our testimony as apostles; a testimony which can be corroborated, if need be, by five hundred other witnesses. That might he comparatively a small matter. But you cut up by the roots the gospel which we preach, and your own faith founded upon it. For of what use is your faith, uniting you to Christ, and giving you an interest in Christ, as dying for your sins, if the death which they entailed on him had not been wholly reversed, undone, destroyed? If in any respect, and to any effect, with reference to any part or his person, these sins of yours, for which, and in which, he died, have proved permanently fatal to him, how can he redeem you from them? "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins."
And if it be so with you, what of those who are dead and gone?
You still live, and may try some other way of getting quit of your sins, if that which has hitherto satisfied you now fails. You may try some new doctrine or discipline of perfection, based on that very spiritualizing of the resurrection which upsets your old faith in the atonement, But alas! for your brethren and friends, who have periled their all on what now, it seems, turns, out to be an error; -- "Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." Our case, in fact -- the case of all of us, living and dead -- is sufficiently deplorable; -- "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."
I. "Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." This does not mean that upon the supposition made, they have ceased to exist. The question of the continued existence of men after death is not raised in the argument. It is a mistake to say that in reasoning on the subject of the resurrection of the body, the apostle loses sight of the distinction between that particular doctrine and the general doctrine of man's immortality. It is a mistake also to think that in this verse he is teaching the dependence of either doctrine on the admission of the fact of Christ's resurrection. His statement is not put thus: Then they also which ire fallen asleep in Christ shall never rise again; their bodies shall never be raised. That would be a true statement. It is an inference or deduction of which Paul may afterwards make use. But it is not his point here. Neither is his statement put thus: Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ, have undergone total and final annihilation. That idea is not once suggested in the whole of this chapter. The glorious resurrection of the bodies of his believing people may be connected with the resurrection of Christ; so that if his resurrection, as a matter of fact, is denied, their resurrection, as a matter of doctrine, must be denied also. But it does not follow that their spiritual immortality or continued existence out of the body, is on that account denied. It does not follow that they must have perished, in the sense of ceasing to exist.
The fact is, what the apostle has in his view as to those who are fallen asleep in Christ, is not their perishing, in the sense of ceasing to exist, either in the body or out of the body; but their perishing in the sense of not being saved, but being lost. It is a far more solemn and awful conclusion that he asks you to face concerning the pious dead than either of these two: -- either first, that they are not to live again in the body, or secondly, that they are not to survive and live after death at all.
The first of these conclusions, as flowing from the denial of the fact of Christ's resurrection, a spiritualist, jealous of physical impurity, and enamored of an ideal immaterial perfection, might rather hail and welcome, than repudiate. Such a consequence deduced from his belief would not alarm or shock him. The second of these conclusions, again, he would deny to be logical or legitimate. I do not see, he might urge, how the fact, if it be a fact -- and you say it must be a fact, upon my view of the resurrection being present and spiritual, not future and corporeal; -- I do not see how the fact of there having been no corporeal resurrection in the case of Christ, any more than I expect that there will be a corporeal resurrection in the case of his followers, implies that they cease to exist after death, any more than that he ceased to exist alter death. He would have had an immortal life, even if his body had not been raised. So they may have an immortal life also in him, even although you shut me up into the admission that his body has not been raised.
Such might have been a fair rejoinder or reply, if the apostle's argument in this eighteenth verse were to be understood as having reference to the mere continuance of life, embodied or disembodied, in the other world. Do you mean to argue thus: If Christ be not raised, then they also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished -- in this sense, that nothing of those corporeal frames of theirs which we bury is afterwards to reappear, and be revived? I accept that result. Or do you mean to argue thus; That upon that supposition they perish, in the sense of not surviving at all, but being altogether annihilated? I do not see how that follows. The spiritual part of me may live on for ever, though all that is material about my person perish, -- and perish irrecoverably.
What the apostle really reasons about is not immortality, whether spiritual or corporeal, but salvation. The conclusion to which he shuts up those with whom he is arguing; is not that they who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished, in the sense of not living again in the body; nor that they have perished, in the sense of not continuing to live at all; but that they have perished in the sense of their being lost as guilty and unsaved sinners; irremediably lost; hopelessly consigned to everlasting perdition.
The statement or argument, in short, concerning believers who have died, is immediately connected with the statement or argument concerning believers who are living. "If Christ be not risen," ye who still live, although you believe in Christ, "are yet in your sins." "If Christ be not raised," your departed brethren, although they fell asleep in Christ, must have died in their sins, and must even now be reaping the fruit of their sins, in condemnation and utter ruin and that for ever. If Christ be not raised, you now believe in vain; you believe in one who cannot save you from your sins, seeing that he is not himself saved from them. And your friends who have fallen asleep in Christ have believed in vain. They fell asleep believing in one who could not save them. They are lost, therefore, finally; they have perished.
Are you prepared for that consequence, inevitably flowing from this speculation of yours about the resurrection? Are you prepared, not only to make void your own faith, which hitherto has sustained you in the hope of your salvation from your sins, but to make void also the faith of venerated fathers, beloved brothers and sisters, whose peace, as they fell asleep in Jesus, depended altogether on the assurance of justification through his resurrection from the dead? Was it a lie that these holy men and women grasped in their right hand, when they walked so fearlessly through the valley of the shadow of death? And are their eyes now opened in that other world to the sad and awful truth, that for all their faith in Christ, they are yet in their sins; that they have believed in one who died, indeed, for their sins, but is not, to this hour, himself extricated from them? Is theirs, as well as yours, the melancholy complaint of disappointment and despair -- "We trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed us?"
Surely this is a startling appeal, well fitted to male the boldest innovator pause.
II. For in truth the innovation involves us all, the dead and the living, who have believed in Christ, in one common ruin;--"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
Is there exaggeration in this utterance? -- the exaggeration of rhetoric or of feeling? Is it an overstrained emotion, partly of enthusiasm -- partly, also, of vexation and annoyance -- that here breaks out?
So it might seem, if the point at issue were either the resurrection of the body, or the immortality of the soul; if the question were merely, Are we to live again in the body? or even, Are we to continue to live after death at all?
Thus, as to the first of these questions, why should believers in Christ be of all men most miserable, even though it should turn out that they are not to live again in the body? There is enough, surely, in that immortal blessedness into which they enter when they depart and are with Christ, "absent from the body and present with the Lord," to be a compensation, and far more than a compensation, for all the toil, hardship, sell-denial, and persecution which, for a few short years, their faith in Christ may entail upon them here. They may be more in trouble than other men; they may be more plagued than other men; there may be "bands in their death" from which other men are-exempt. But if, when all on earth is over, the Lord Jesus receives their spirits, even though their bodies are to be wholly left behind for ever, -- if that is their hope, -- they cannot well be said to be "of all men most miserable."
Nay, take even the other supposition. Let the case put be that of their not continuing to live at all. Let that be the conclusion to which the denial of Christ's resurrection shuts us up; namely. that we have no evidence or assurance of even the spiritual part of us surviving our bodily dissolution. Still, believers in Christ need not be condoled with; -- they are scarcely entitled to condole with one another; -- as being "of all men most miserable." They have, at least, as good prospects and presumptions with reference to the life to come, as that great Roman orator and philosopher had, who, in the evening of life, amid the wreck and ruin of earth's holiest ties, would not let go his grasp of immortality. "If it prove to be a dream, I can be none the worse for it; meanwhile, by means of it, I have fellowship with the excellent who are gone." And -- which is more than the wisest and best heathen ever had -- they enjoy, in their experience, or imagination, of peace with God and reconciliation to him, what may well make their present life not wretched, but most enviable, even though it should be a life of incessant trial, and a life that is to terminate conclusively at death.
What, then, is the precise ground of the apostle's earnest ejaculation, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable?"
It is in entire accordance with his previous argument. It proceeds upon the inference or deduction, that if Christ be not raised, the very peace and reconciliation, which make this life at its worst, not only tolerable, but even desirable to believers in Jesus, are themselves a delusion. In this life we have hope in Christ. And there may be pleasure in such hope in Christ while it lasts. But it is a hope which, if there be, as there assuredly is, a hereafter, will be found to be utterly hollow and untrue. For it is the hope, it is the faith, of our being saved from our sins. But we are not saved from our sins "if Christ be not raised." On the contrary, we "are yet in our sins." Whatever hope we have in Christ, as regards our being saved from our sins, rests on what, it seems, is an error and a fable. It cannot last beyond this present life. At death, if we survive death, even although we fall asleep in Christ, we shall too surely discover -- as "they which have fallen asleep in Christ" before us have already discovered -- that our faith is vain, and our hope delusive; that since Christ is not raised, we are yet in our sins ; and alas! must continue in our sins for ever.
Is not this truly a miserable case? If it is really ours, are we not deeply to be pitied? Are we not "of all men most miserable?"
The "hope in Christ," then, of which Paul speaks, is not the hope of the resurrection; -- nor even the hope of immortality; -- but the hope which has for its object the pardon, the favour; the approbation, the love of the Most High. It is the hope which cheers the broken heart of the man whose sin has found him out, when first, amid the anguish of his godly shame and sorrow, his eye fixes itself on Jesus lifted up on the cross, a sacrifice for sin. It is a hope which, if it be well founded, it is rapture to him to cherish, for present peace and pure joy in God, apart from all thought of what is to befall him in the future.
Yes! If it be well founded. But if you fling a cold doubt across that great fact on which it is built; if he to whom the Holy Ghost has been moving me to look as dying for my sins, may, after all, not have risen again; if my sins are still upon him, keeping his body in the tomb; if, through his bearing my guilt, the precious dust of that holy human frame, which the Holy Ghost prepared for him in the Virgin's womb, is lost inextricably and irrecoverably in the common dust of this doomed earth, the ground cursed for man's sin: -- if thus the great Redeemer himself has failed to procure, even in his own case, a reversal of the sentence, dust to dust; -- if the very "ransom God has found to deliver from going down to the pit" is itself marred, and the person of Emmanuel is no more complete, as it was when it was formed within the womb of his mother Mary; -- if the grave has triumphed, and the expiation has broken down; in a word, if Christ is not raised, and they who have believed on him for the remission of their sins, are in their sins still, and die in their sins, and perish in their sins; -- Oh! what better is my hope, to me, than the hope of the hypocrite, whose "soul, whatever he has gained, God taketh away!"
"If in this life only we have hope in Christ!" Any hope we can have in Christ respecting the forgiveness of our sins, must, on the supposition now made, be a hope which we can have only in this life. We may cling to it, and lean on it, for a little longer, while we live. We may desperately grasp it as the only solace of our anxious souls. We may try earnestly to persuade ourselves that there is for us an atonement -- that there is for us-- a pardon in Christ. But the atonement; what is it? -- the pardon; where is it? -- if our sins, for which Christ died, are upon him still, subjecting him still to the power of death?
The bubble must one day burst. The fond persuasion, the flattering hope, must be cut off. At death, if not before, we must be awakened to the discovery that, believing in Christ for the saving of our souls from sin, we have believed in vain. We are yet in our sins after all. We perish, as they who have fallen asleep in Jesus have perished, hopelessly and for ever. If this be so, "Are we not indeed of all men most miserable?"
The Apostle is not here formally comparing himself and his fellow-believers with the rest of mankind, when he calls himself elsewhere the "chief of sinners," he is not measuring himself by others. It is of himself alone, and of his own aggravated guilt, that he is there thinking. So it is here. It is himself and his fellow-believers alone, and not any others, that he has in his mind, when, using the strong language of seeming comparison, he cries -- "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable!"
Yes. We are so! We who have had our eyes opened to sec the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the infinite preciousness of salvation from sin! If our hope is dashed; if it is found to be a hope which, however we may cling to it for a while, must fail us at the last; we cannot fall back again upon the fat, contented slumber of easy unconcern and worldly security. Our natural peace has been broken. Our consciences have been pricked. Our hearts have been stirred. We have been made to know ourselves, and to know God. We have been forced to feel what every sin of ours deserves, and how terrible a thing it is to "fall into the hands of the living God."
We had got a hope, a trembling hope, of the forgiveness of sin, and the favour of God, being ours. It was a hope based and built on a satisfying atonement having been offered on our behalf by the Eternal Son, through the Eternal Spirit, to the Eternal Father; -- offered on our behalf, and accepted too. Our conviction of its having been accepted -- rested on this belief, that whatever our sins, when he died for them, brought on Christ, had been undone.
But you tell us, no. The ruin of his body was irreparable. Our sins slew his body, and it lies slain to this hour.
Then where is our hope? Where is the hope we so fondly cherished, that our sins were fully atoned for; their guilt expiated, their condemnation thoroughly taken away? They still keep Christ under the power of death, the death he died for us. They must keep us in the doom which we, wicked as we are, brought on him, the Righteous One. It is, on that supposition, a doom from which he is not himself completely delivered. How than can he deliver us? They must keep us, these sins of ours -- they must keep us as well as him, in that doom of guilt and ruin evermore.
Is not that enough to make us miserable, "most miserable?"
What matters this present life, with its gleam, it's spark of hope, kindled by the death of Christ, if that is to be the end of it? Touch our hope, as you do touch our hope, of the full, free, everlasting forgiveness of our sins, through Christ dying for our sins and rising again, and what refuge have we? We cannot in any other way find rest or peace. We cannot lay any flattering unction to our souls, as if we might, somehow, otherwise be saved. We cannot do without the atonement.
And must it not be misery unspeakable to conclude that, after all, he whom we have admired, believed, trusted, loved, cannot save us? -- that in spite of his dying for our sins, we are left in our sins? -- that, like others who have gone before us, when we fall asleep in him, we perish?
But it is not so. Christ is risen from the dead. He who was dead is alive for evermore. Therefore, we live now; -- we who believe in him. And they live too; -- they who have fallen asleep in him. Death could not hold him: no; not any part of him. Sin could not destroy him: no; not any part of him. He goes down to the pit. But see! He comes forth, leaving no part of him behind. Therefore, guilt is expiated. Therefore, the ransom is sufficient. Therefore, the redemption is complete. Therefore we, as well as our predecessors in the life of faith, have a hope which neither death nor sin can touch.
They have not perished. Though absent from the body, they live now. In the body they are to live hereafter. No part of them has fallen, or is to fall, a victim, either to death or to sin.
We, also, believing, are not in our sins. No wrath for sin is upon us now. No death for sin awaits us at last. Our now is a life in Christ, free from the doom of guilt. When we fall asleep in Christ, we do not perish.
In the risen Saviour, then, let us rejoice to hope. In the risen Saviour let us rejoice to have fellowship, in our hope, with all them that have already fallen asleep in Christ. They have fallen asleep, as we hope to fall asleep, not to perish, but to have everlasting life.
Biography of Author
ROBERT S. CANDLISH (1806-1873)Like Dinsdale T. Young, Robert S. Candlish, born at Edinburgh, in 1806, was the son of a physician. He was adequately educated at home in his earlier years so that when he went up to the University of Glasgow, he at once stood out as a student of unusual brilliance. His preaching gifts were soon discovered, and in 1833, when he was only twenty-seven years of age, he was appointed Minister of St. George's, Edinburgh, the most influential congregation in that city. Little did he know then of the great part he would play in the mighty struggle that was soon to develop over the matter of an established church, which led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland, an event which was marked by 470 ministers leaving the State Church of Scotland, and forming themselves into the Free Church. One of his biographers says that "from this time, or at least, from the death of Chalmers (1847); till close on his own death, in 1873, Candlish may be said to have been the ruling spirit in the Free Church." He continued as the Minister of St. George's Free Church to the end of his life, and, in addition, was made the Principal of New College. In 1861, he was the Moderator of the General Assembly.
Candlish's writings are still worth reading, even those two volumes now seldom seen, Contributions Toward the Exposition of Genesis, (1842). Probably the greatest expository series he ever delivered was published in his large volume, Expository Discourses on I John, which gives some idea of his great theological ability and his brilliant style. Some of these chapters are simply unequaled in the depth of meaning which he discovers in this Johannine writing.
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