If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all men.
I. FAITH IN CHRIST'S DEITY LARGELY RESTS UPON THE FACT OF HIS RESURRECTION.
1. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, his own recorded predictions would have been falsifed. On several occasions he had foretold that his violent death should be followed on the third day by his resurrection. Had this not taken place, his word would have been discredited, and all confidence in his Deity would naturally have been destroyed.
2. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, he would have been proved inferior to death. The argument of the apostle was a very powerful and effective argument - that, being not only David's Son, but David's Lord, it was not possible that he should be holden by death, that his body should see corruption. But had he remained in the grave, a very different impression concerning his nature would necessarily have been produced upon the minds of his disciples, and the world could never have been convinced of his Messiahship and divinity.
II. FAITH IN CHRIST AS A SAVIOUR RESTS UPON THE FACT OF HIS RESURRECTION.
1. This appears in the customary publication of the gospel by the inspired apostles. They preached that Jesus was "raised to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins."
2. The resurrection of Christ is a token of the acceptance by the Father of that redemptive work of Christ whereby forgiveness is secured to those who believe. And it is the condition of the exercise of those mediatorial functions which are still discharged in the court of heaven, the presence of God.
3. The resurrection is a spiritual power in the hearts of those who believe it, a power of newness of mind, of holiness, of life immortal. They who die with Christ unto sin, and are crucified with him unto the world, risen with Christ, live in his heavenly and resurrection life.
III. FAITH IN CHRIST AS THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THE GENERAL RESURRECTION RESTS UPON HIS RISING FROM THE TOMB. There is observable a marvellous contrast between the hopelessness of the heathen and the confidence of Christians in the prospect of death. To those who believe the gospel, the victory of Immanuel over death and the grave is the pledge of the final triumph of the good, is their consolation when they are bereaved of their Christian kindred and associates, is their confidence and inspiration in the prospect of their own departure to be with Christ. - T.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. Observe
I. GOD'S GOODNESS. Take men like the psalmists. They often sang as if they had laid hold of eternal life. They declared Jehovah to be all their salvation and all their desire. To all this God's answer is extinction. Can a more revolting blasphemy be conceived?
II. HIS WISDOM. Could not man have been made so as to be satisfied with the present world? We know how our generosity may become a pain and temptation to those upon whom we have bestowed it. Our gifts may be large enough to create dissatisfaction with our daily lot, yet too small to secure contentment with another. If it is not God's purpose to continue the consciousness with which He has endowed us, He has, so to speak, overbuilt Himself in creation. He should either have gone farther, or not so far.
III. HIS POWER. But herein is God unlike His creatures. Impair one of God's attributes and you overturn the whole Godhead. Man may have special excellences and redeeming points of character; but in the case of God every point must be of equal strength and glory. Suppose His goodness to be infinite, and His power limited; then He is Jehovah no more. When He created man, did He not know that His power was incomplete? Has He been taught the insufficiency of His strength by results which He failed to foresee? Conclusion:
1. We have before us, then, a strong presumptive argument in favour of another and higher life. That life suggests itself as the required complement of our present existence, and urges itself upon us in vindication of all that is Divine in God. Whatever speculative difficulties may arise in connection with immortality, the practical difficulties of the negative theory are insurmountable.
2. The theory of our life only bears more vividly up m the mediation of Christ. How bitter the irony of His appeals, how wasteful the sacrifice of His life, if a few pulsations be the measure of our existence. He spoke much of the life eternal: did it all mean that His most loving followers must be blotted out of existence? If so, His attempts at redemption aggravated the original injustice of our creation.
3. Granted that you never doubted the existence of the future life, this discussion is of the first importance. We may be called upon to give to others a reason for the hope that is in us, and we may feel more keenly the obligations which another life imposes on us to live nobly in this present world. If there is another life —(1) In what relation does our present existence stand to it? Is it disciplinary?(2) What will be its effect in regard to, the moral confusion and restlessness of our present existence. Here virtue is often undervalued and vice successful. Is the glory of the Divine righteousness to shine through all the obscurities of the Divine government? Christian hope answers, Yes!(3) Can they be wise who exhaust themselves within the limits of the present world? What a fool is the mere money-gatherer! How deluded is he who mistakes the part for the whole.(4) Is not he the wise man who regulates the present by all that is solemn and sublime in the future?
(J. Parker, D.D.)I. WHAT THE TEXT IMPLIES.
1. That there is misery amongst men on this earth. This is obvious. "Man is born to trouble." But great as it is —(1) It is not as great as man deserves. All suffering springs from sin. Misery does not grow out of the constitution of things.(2) It is not as great as man's happiness. For days and weeks of affliction he has months and years of happiness.(3) It is not as great as the good it will ultimately work out.
2. That misery amongst men exists in different degrees. Paul speaks of the "most miserable." There is a great inequality of suffering here. There must come a day for eternal justice to balance these accounts.
3. That the degree of misery is sometimes regulated by hope. Paul speaks of "hope" as having to do with making men "most miserable." Man is ever living in the future; he seldom turns willingly to the past; his past sins terrify him, and even his past pleasures depress him. The present satisfies him not. His home is in the future. It is obvious that a principle so powerful must exert a wonderful influence, either for weal or woe. If the hope is directed to right objects, and rightly founded, it will be as a firm anchor, holding his ship securely amidst the tumultuous billows of his stormy life. But should his hope be not rightly directed and grounded, it is clear that though it may afford him for a time some amount of enjoyment, it will ultimately end in his confusion and distress.
4. That the hope of a Christian, if false, will make him of "all men most miserable."
II. WHAT THE TEXT MEANS.
1. Not —(1) That apart from the resurrection of Christ, man has no evidence of a future state. All the Jews except the Sadducees believed in the existence of a future retribution; and Paul as a philosopher knew that human nature and human history prophesied a future state.(2) That on the supposition that there is no future life, the practice of virtue here would place man in a worse condition than that of vice. This would not be true; the life of virtue as embodied in Christianity would give a man considerable advantage even in this world.(3) That apart from a future state a godly life is not binding on man. Were there no heaven, no hell, man's obligation to love his Maker "with all his heart, soul, strength," would still remain.
2. Two things must be distinctly kept in mind in order fully to apprehend the idea of the apostle.(1) That he is speaking of himself and his evangelical contemporaries. The sufferings which they brought upon themselves in consequence of their faith in Christianity, and their efforts to extend it through the world, were unique in their enormity. In this age our faith in Christianity, and our endeavours to propagate it, entail little or no inconvenience.(2) That he supposes the disappointed to survive the discovery of the delusion. The very first flash of the terrible truth, that there was no future blessedness, would scathe their spirits into everlasting annihilation, and there would of course be no misery at all in the case. We must suppose the apostle therefore having the idea that there was a future state, in which he should live in vivid memories of the past. Up to the time of discovery, however great their suffering, Christians could not be "most miserable." An enthusiast, whatever his physical affections, is happy; he revels amidst the hallucinations of his own brain, and requires none of your pity if he survive not the discovery of his delusion.
III. THESE SUPPOSITIONS ENABLES US TO SEE THAT THE MISERY OF WHICH THE APOSTLE SPEAKS IS THE MISERY OF A TREMENDOUS DISAPPOINTMENT. Note —
1. The power which the blighted hope had obtained over the whole soul. There are some hopes that take but a slight hold upon the heart: But there are hopes like the tree that strikes its roots deep into the very fibre of our nature. When such hopes are torn away, it is as the "giving up of the ghost." Imagine the case of a man who had thrown his whole being into Christianity, being met at the moment when his hopes were at their zenith, and when his death was at hand, with the conviction that all was a delusion; and you have a man of all men "most miserable." Imagine that man still further fixed in a future state of deep despair, and regarding himself as the hopeless victim of a life of folly. Would he not say, Fool that I have been in spending a whole life in aiming at objects that were purely visionary. Had I been wise I should have adopted the maxim, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
2. The deception which the blighted hope prompted its subjects to practise. The apostle declares that on the assumption that Christ rose from the dead, they were "false witnesses of God." Most assuredly if there be no future state of blessedness, the whole life of the Christian is a living lie. His deception is —(1) Earnest. He "counts not his life dear unto him," if he can only make men participate in his creed.(2) Systematic. It is not an occasional or spasmodic effort; it is the organised purpose of his being. He rears temples, forms societies, circulates books, preaches discourses, in order to win men over to his views.(3) Influential. He succeeds in his proselytism. Such is the deception Christians practise on the hypothesis that there is no future life in Him. How much would the memory of their deception heighten the misery of their disappointment on the discovery of their own terrible mistake! The feeling that they themselves had been deluded would be well-nigh intolerable; but the feeling that they had deluded others would be crushing.
3. The destitution in which the departure of the hope would involve the soul. Christianity works a most radical change in a man. It effects a "regeneration." Under its influence man becomes "a new creation"; old things pass away, all things become new; what he once loved he loathes, what he once sought he shuns, what he once valued he despises, what things were gain to him he counts loss. On the discovery therefore of the delusion, he would be left in possession of tastes and desires for which there was no provision. A thousand times worse is the state of such a soul than that of a parched traveller, who, beneath the agonising fires of thirst, falls prostrate on the Oriental sands, many leagues away from the refreshing streams. Conclusion: Thank God this is only hypothetic. The apostle does not speak as if he had any doubt, but in order to bring out the glorious fact on which it rests with greater fire and force. "But now is Christ risen from the dead," etc.We have hope in a blessed future, and therefore —
1. When bereavement snatches from our embrace the dearest objects of our heart, let us not sorrow as do others.
2. Let us not envy the wicked in their prosperity, but bear up with fortitude, knowing that "our light afflictions which are but for a moment," etc.
3. Let us labour earnestly to indoctrinate all within our reach with the soul-saving principles of the everlasting word.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
1. The Corinthians had heard him say, "We are risen with Christ." A party of them had built on this the conclusion that their spiritual resurrection was all that Christ had procured for them. St. Paul shows them that they were turning this half-truth, not to the destruction of the other half merely, but of itself. If they were not to rise in their bodies, Christ their Lord had not risen in His body. The very ground of the spiritual resurrection, of which they boasted, was their union with Him. God had justified them in Him. The new doctrine, in effect, disclaimed, his relation between them and Him. It left them a set of poor, separated, unredeemed creatures; "yet in their sins." It was very miserable to believe such a contradiction as this would be.
2. Christ had broken through the barriers of death, had brought the visible and the invisible world into one. Those who said "The Resurrection only concerns us here," established this separation again, and treated Death as to all intents and purposes the ultimate ruler, Life as shut up within threescore years and ten of conflict. This was to confound the dim hope of all nations. When the sense of present misery was very acute, there was a prophecy, arising in some minds almost to a conviction, that the other side of death might offer a compensation. Had not St. Paul a right to say then "If we possess all that Christ came to give us, He has taken from us something which He has not taken from any others. That which has never been altogether a blank to them, in which there have been some bright Elysian spots, has become entirely a blank to us." But it may be said, "The apostle speaks of a hope in Christ. What could such a hope have to do with dreams of Greeks or Goths respecting an Elysium or a Walhalla? Being heathens, they certainly could not hope in Him." But the principle which underlies all the apostle's teaching is that when Christ took flesh and dwelt among men, He declared Himself to be that King, whose manifestation in His own true and proper nature all had been desiring. If this be so, I cannot imagine how he could describe any hope which had ever been entertained by any human being, except as a hope in Christ. The gods whom Greeks or Goths worshipped could have kindled no hopes in them, only a vague, inconceivable dread. Whatever hope they had came from a secret source, a hidden root. The apostle, then, might truly say, that if the Corinthians who professed to believe that Jesus was the Christ, made His work upon earth an excuse for not looking beyond the earth, they had parted with some of the hope in Christ which their heathen brethren possessed.
3. But there is an ampler justification of the apostle's words. He had a much deeper impression of the misery of the world around him than any person who did not believe in the gospel could have had. The devil-worship and the sin which prevailed was revolting to him who worshipped a God of love, and who believed that the Spirit of Christ had come among men to make them after His image. Feeling as he did their misery, it would absolutely have crushed him if in this life only he had had hope in Christ, if he could have measured the future of mankind merely by anything that he saw or had yet experienced. The thought which we should often bring before ourselves as we walk our streets, and as we read of what is doing in other parts of the world, is — Are our hopes in Christ, for those whom we see perishing in filth, in ignorance, in moral debasement, only hopes for this life? Is the wisdom of rulers, the godliness of teachers, the benevolence of societies, all which seems to us to intervene between them and utter, absolute ruin? Oh, then, surely we must be of all men most miserable! To think of all the wickedness which is crowded into the most fortunate corner of this earth, and not to feel something very like despair, is very difficult. It would be impossible, if we were not encouraged and commanded to place our hopes, not in what we are doing, but in what Christ has done by His death, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Holy Spirit. If we think that nothing is given yet; that we are merely to look for something to come, we are most miserable. If we think that all has been given — that we have nothing to long for — we are most miserable. But if we accept the signs and pledges of a perfect sacrifice made once for all, the vision of Him who died once and reigneth for evermore will become brighter and clearer.
(F. D. Maurice, M.A.)
I. WE ARE NOT OF ALL MEN MOST MISERABLE. He who shall affirm that Christianity makes men miserable is an utter stranger to it. For see —
1. To what a position it exalts us! It makes us sons of God. Shall His foes have mirth, and His own home-born be wretched? We are married unto Christ, and shall our great Bridegroom permit His spouse to linger in grief? The Christian is a king, and shall the king be the most melancholy of men?
2. What God has done for us! The Christian knows that his sins are forgiven. And shall the pardoned offender be less happy than the man upon whom the wrath of God abideth? Moreover, we are made temples of the Holy Ghost, and are these dark, dolorous places? Our God is a God of love, and it is His very nature to make His creatures happy.
3. Their actual joy and peace. Our joy may not be like that of the sinner, noisy and boisterous. "As the crackling of thorns under a pot" — a great deal of blaze and much noise, and then a handful of ashes, and it is all over. The Chiristian's joy does not depend upon circumstances. We have seen the happiest men in the most sorrowful conditions. Every Christian will bear wines that he has found his sad times to be his glad times, his losses to be his gains, his sickness means to promote his soul's health. We can rejoice even in death.
II. WITHOUT THE HOPE OF ANOTHER LIFE WE SHOULD BE OF ALL MEN MOST MISERABLE. This is true, not merely of persecuted, and despised, and poverty-stricken Christians, but of all believers. Note that the Christian —
1. Has renounced those common and ordinary sources of joy from which other men drink. We must have some pleasure. Well, then, there is a vessel filled with muddy, filthy water which the camels' feet have stirred: shall I drink it? I see yonder a cool, clear stream, and I say, "I will not drink this; I will drink of that." But if it be but the deceitful mirage, then I am worse off than those who were content with the muddy water. So the Christian passes by the pleasures of sin, because he says, "I do not care for them, my happiness flows from the river which springs from the throne of God and flows to me through Christ — I will drink of that," but if that were proved to be a deception, then were we more wretched than the profligate.
2. Has learned the vanity of all earthly joys. We have chosen eternal things which are satisfying to the soul. Bat it is the most unhappy to know that this world is vain, if there be not another world abundantly to compensate for all our ills. There is a poor lunatic in Bedlam plaiting straw into a crown which he puts upon his head, and calls himself a king. Do you think that I would undeceive him? Nay, verily. If the delusion makes the man happy, by all means let him indulge in it; but you and I have been undeceived; our dream of perfect bliss beneath the skies is gone for ever; what then if there be no world to come?
3. Has had high, noble, and great expectations, and this is a very sad thing for us if our expectations be not fulfilled. I have known poor men expecting a legacy, and the relative has died and left them nothing; their poverty has ever afterwards seemed to be a heavier drag than before. Poverty is infinitely better endured by persons who were always poor, than by those who have been rich. The Christian has learned to think of eternity, of God, of Christ, and if indeed it be all false, the best thing he could do would be to sit down and weep for ever.
4. Has learned to look upon everything here as fleeting. Well, this is a very unhappy thing, if there be no world to come.
III. OUR CHIEF JOY IN THE HOPE OF THE WORLD TO COME. There is —
IV. THUS THE FUTURE OPERATES UPON THE PRESENT. Here is a man who has a machine for his factory. He wants steam power to work this machine. An engineer puts up a steam engine in a shed at some distance. "Well," said the other, "I asked you to bring steam power here, to operate upon my machine." "That is precisely," says he, "what I have done. I put the engine there, you have but to connect it by a band and your machine works as fast as you like; it is not necessary that I should put it just under your nose." So God has been pleased to make our hopes of the future a great engine wherewith the Christian may work the ordinary machine of every-day life, for the band of faith connects the two, and makes all the wheels of ordinary life revolve with rapidity and regularity. To speak against preaching the future as though it would make people neglect the present is as though somebody would say, "There, take away the moon, and blot out the sun. What is the use of them — they are not in this world"! Precisely so, but take away the moon and you have removed the tides, and the sea becomes a stagnant, putrid pool. Then take away the sun, and light, and heat, and life; everything is gone. Do you believe that apostles and martyrs would ever have sacrificed their lives for truth's sake if they had not looked for a hereafter? In the heat of excitement, the soldier may die for honour, but to die in tortures and mockeries in cold blood needs a hope beyond the grave. Would yon poor man go on toiling year after year, refusing to sacrifice his conscience for gain; would yon poor needle-girl refuse to become the slave of lust if she did not see something brighter than earth can picture to her as the reward of sin? The most practical thing in all the world is the hope of the world to come; for it is just this which keeps us from being miserable; and to keep a man from being miserable it is to do a great thing for him, for a miserable Christian — what is the use of him? But the man who has a hope of the next world goes about his work strong, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.
V. THIS WILL LET US SEE CLEARLY WHAT OUR FUTURE IS TO BE. There are some persons here to whom my text has nothing whatever to say. Suppose there were no hereafter, would they be more miserable? Why, no; they would be more happy. Do you see, then, this proves that you are not a Christian; for if you were, the taking away of a hereafter would make you miserable. Well, then, what have I to say to you? Why just this — that in the world to come you will be of all men most miserable. "What will become of you?" said an infidel once to a Christian man, "supposing there should be no heaven?" "Well," said he, "I like to have two strings to my bow. If there be no hereafter I am as well off as you are; if there be I am infinitely better off."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. WHAT, THEN, IS THE HOPE RESPECTING A FUTURE WHICH WE OWE TO OUR RISEN LORD? Is it the hope that we shall exist for ever? Is our continuous existence hereafter altogether dependent upon faith in and communion with the risen Christ? No, our immortality is not a gift of the Redeemer; it is the gift of the Creator. Belief in a future state does not begin with Christianity. It is as deeply rooted in the human soul as belief in God. In some sense it is wellnigh universal. The honour so widely paid to the graves of ancestors is a natural expression of belief in their survival after death. It was this belief which made an ancient Egyptian deem the embalming of his mummy the most important thing that could happen to him: it was this belief which built, the pyramids, which rendered the Greek mysteries of Eleusis so welcome to those upon whom the old popular religion had lost its power, and which made great thinkers, such as Plato, at least in their higher moods, capable of thoughts and aspirations which Christians, in all ages, have welcomed as almost anticipating their own.
II. BUT TO WHAT SORT OF IMMORTALITY DOES THIS ANTICIPATION POINT? It is not the immortality —
1. Of the race. How is this shadowy survival entitled to the name of immortality? A race of beings does not live apart from the individuals which compose it.
2. Of fame. How many of us will have a place in the public memory and live in history? For most of us life is made up of duties of so humble a kind that they hardly have a place in our own memories from day to day, much less in those of others. But if there is no life after death, what is to become of them, that is, what is to become of this kind of immortality in the case of the greater part of the human race? Is not this immortality only a perpetuation of inequalities which disfigure our earthly life, and of which a future of absolute truth and justice would know nothing?
3. Of our good deeds. To say that a man lives in his good actions may be Christian language (Revelation 14:13). To this day the saints of the Bible history live in the works which are recorded of them. But, there are actions in all true and saintly lives which are known only to God, and which, so far as we can see, have no certain consequences here. But if the soul perishes at death, in what sense are they immortal? And are our good deeds our only deeds? Have not our evil deeds — some of them — consequences; and do these consequences punish the agent, if he really perishes at death? Others than he are punished. No; the immortality of our actions is not an immortality which satisfies the yearnings of the heart of man, since this yearning is based always and especially on its sense of justice.
II. WHAT, THEN, IS THE HOPE IN CHRIST WHICH REDEEMS CHRISTIAN LIFE FROM THE FAILURE AND MISERY ALLUDED TO IN THE TEXT. It is the hope, that through His precious death and His glorious resurrection, our inevitable immortality will be an immortality of bliss. Of course it is not denied that He has "brought life and immortality to light." For multitudes before He came it was a vague and dreary anticipation: He has made it a blessed and welcome certainty. He has familiarised us with the idea that all live unto God (Luke 20:37, 38); and He has further taught the future resurrection of the body, as completing the life beyond the grave (John 6:40). He thus has altogether removed the question from the region of speculation into that of certainty, founded upon experience; since when He rose from death He was Himself but the first-fruits from the dead. But the hope in Christ is the hope of a blessed immortality. This He has won for us by His one perfect and sufficient sacrifice on the Cross, whereby our sins are blotted out, and the grace of His Spirit and His new nature is secured to us, so as to fit us, by sanctification, for His eternal presence. Apart from this conviction, Christianity is a worthless dream; the efforts and sacrifices of the Christian life are wasted; we are the victims of a great delusion; we are of all men most miserable. Conclusion:
1. There are signs in our day that faith in a future after death is less taken for granted than was the case a generation ago. One of these signs is the increased number of suicides all over Europe. There are not merely the pathetic suicides of the very wretched, there are the suicides of votaries of pleasure, who having exhausted all the facilities of enjoyment, throw it away like a toy which has ceased to please. Suicides like these mean that the opportunities for enjoyment have in certain classes outrun the power to enjoy. Suicides are only possible when through continuous enervation of the moral nature the awful realities of immortality have been lost sight of: and their increase is a serious symptom of what must be passing in large classes of minds.
2. Much seems to show that in the modern world two entirely different beliefs about man are confounded with each other. According to one of these man is really only the highest of the beasts that perish. Opposed to this idea is the Christian belief that man differs from the lower creatures altogether, except in the fact that he owns a body, which is governed by the same laws as theirs. For man, his body, instead of being the substantive and central part of his being, is an appendage. The soul of man no more dies when it leaves the body than the musical genius which makes that organ do so much to aid the devotion of God's people forfeits its knowledge and its skill when it ceases to touch the key-board. In man the central or substantive feature is the soul; and of the life of the soul, this earthly life in the body is but a very small portion indeed. It is related to what follows, as is a brief preface to a very voluminous book: it throws light on what is to come; it is relatively insignificant. "The things which are seen are temporal: the things which are not seen are eternal."
I. DEMAND EXPLANATION OF US.
1. Only the heavenly hope could compensate for the severity of their earthly experiences (2 Corinthians 6:11.). Speaking for himself, and having in view all of every kind that he was enduring for the sake of the gospel, he felt that all the peace and comfort which solaced other men's lives were absent from his own, and he concluded that without that grand compensation which was in store, he and they were the most to be pitied of all men.
2. In that case they were the victims of a miserable delusion. They were basing their whole life on a faith which was a falsehood; they were building everything on a rotten foundation; they were spending all their energies and surrendering all their opportunities to teach men that which their disciples were bound to disbelieve (ver. 14). They might well be pitied as the dupes of a dream.
II. PROVIDE SUGGESTIONS FOR US.
1. That there are consequences attending unswerving faithfulness we must all be prepared to meet. Not now the lash or the dungeon. It may be the biting sarcasm or the polite irony, etc. But it must be that "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
2. That delusion is always pitiable. Men may be buoyed up by false hopes, and it may seem at a superficial glance that the cherishing of the error is positively gainful. But it is always better to walk in the light than to wander in the darkness. They who give way to plausible but unsound doctrine are to be pitied, however fair in the face these doctrines may be, however excellent be the spirit and intention of those that hold them.
(W. Clarkson, B.A.)
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