For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
"I believe in the resurrection of the body." And what does this imply? Does it merely mean that we assent to there being such a thing, as a bare truth in the abstract? Does it mean, "I believe that men's bodies shall rise?" And when we continue, "And in the life everlasting," do we merely intend by this, "I believe that some shall live forever?" Oh, surely not: we cannot have such a cold unworthy idea of the articles of the Christian faith as this. When I utter these words in church, when I profess them as my belief, I must surely mean that I regard them as facts in my own life and course. I take the words as they stand in the Nicene Creed, where the very same expression is used as in our text: "I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." That is, I expect in my own case, I look forward to witnessing, and sharing in, the things thus spoken of. If you ask me what reason have I in my own case to look for such blessed participation in the resurrection to life eternal, my answer is plain and decisive. "I look for the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting," because God has assured these blessings to me in my covenant relation with Him in Christ as a member of Christ's body. Now, many of you are aware that in saying this I am touching on a question much debated among religious writers of a certain stamp: I mean the question as to what is called personal assurance: the question as to whether it is, or is not, an essential portion of the Christian's faith to be assured of his own part in Christ, and his own ultimate share in Christ's salvation. Now, this is a question which no Christian Churchman can be at any loss how to answer. He will answer it as we have done above; and tell the inquirer that his own personal part in God's covenant and God's promises is not a matter which can be left to uncertain and easily mistaken feelings and experiences of his own, but is, as we said before, at the foundation of his whole spiritual life, which is built up upon it, as it is built on the fact of God's mercies to him in Christ. And this being so, important effects are produced, or ought to be produced, on our views of several things, either present or in prospect.
1. The first of which I shall speak is our view of death. If a blessed resurrection in an incorruptible body is to be ours, any one can easily see that the act and state of death, so terrible where this hope is not, at once loses its formidable character, and shrinks up into utter insignificance. Doubtless it will and must be a conflict when it comes, that solemn moment of parting from the body: but what is a conflict where victory is assured to us? What soldier ever dwells long and gloomily on the fearful incidents of battle, by way of bracing his courage to meet it? Is it not ever the rule, and should it not ever be our rule, to dwell on the triumph beyond, and so to forget the struggle by which it is to be reached?
2. And as this confidence of hope will alter our view of death, so will it also of life. What is life to the man of this world — to the poor creature who does not know whether it is not to be cut short forever at the day of death? Life to him is simply a snatching time: to get as much as he can out of it, to eat and drink, and amass gain, and earn repute, and win importance, and fill as large a space as he can with what credit he may: and there is an end of it. Thousands on thousands are leading just this life and nothing more: often varnished over with pure and bright colours — decent charities, expected attendance on religion, and the like: but none can deny that, judging by the practice of most men, such is the general view of life; that as to eternity and so on, it is an uncertainty after all, and it is better to take the present good in hand, than to lay up for such an uncertainty. Now then, does a man, in his heart, in his deepest thoughts and views of the future, look for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting? And can he any longer think thus of life? Why, to the other man, this life is all: he knows of nothing beyond it; but to this man, what is beyond it is almost all, and this life is as compared to it almost as nothing. But how? Even as the seed time, which though in a certain field it may be but one morning in a year, yet on that one morning depends all the use and produce of that field for that year — so is it with the Christian believer's estimate of this life. It is, as compared with that beyond the grave, but as a moment — but as a point hardly to be appreciated: yet in the use of this moment, in the complexion of this little point, is involved the whole character and degree of blessedness of that immeasurable eternity. Life is now not a snatching time, but a laying-up time: a time of treasuring up things which may be of account there.
3. There is another thing concerning which, if we look in our own persons for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, our views will necessarily undergo a change, and that is, the body. It may not be very easy to say what the mere worldly man thinks of the body in which he finds himself dwelling. But I am afraid we should not be far wrong in believing that the very last thing which he expects is, that it will rise from the grave, and be his dwelling forever. This doctrine, at which the wise Athenians scoffed, is still despised by those who think themselves wise after this world's measure. They have some vague notion of a probability of the immortality of the soul and a future judgment, without ever reflecting that we shall be judged in the body for the deeds done in the body. And the consequence is that in their view the man is not one, but two persons, soul and body: the soul is meant to be saved by religion, but the body has little or nothing to do with religion. And then those who are not only worldly, but irreligious, go further than this; and pretend to tell us, from the speculations of misused science, that the life which is so mysteriously placed in the body is necessarily and inseparably united to it, and therefore perishes when the body decays. How different an aspect do the things of the body present to him who regards it as his companion through a blessed eternity — to him who reads and feels what the apostle tells us, that Christ is the Saviour of the body; that we are now waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of the body. How careful will he be to train this his future servant for its blessed ministrations there; — to put it entirely under the power of God's purifying Spirit of grace: — to subdue in it all impure and unholy desires, all inordinate indulgences of lawful appetite, and render it a habitation if it may be worthy of Him whose temple it ought to be.
4. Yet another change will be wrought by looking for the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting: and that will be in our views of and affections towards others around us. If the painter who painted for posterity needed more care in every touch than the other, who painted merely for the day, will not he who loves for eternity love more wisely, more tenderly, more cautiously and self-denyingly than he who merely gratifies a present predilection? A fellow member of the body of Christ — one with whom I hope to hold converse which shall never know parting nor end in the presence of Him who is Love — if I remember this, and act on this, can I wantonly wound the feelings of such an one? Can I hinder such an one in the path to glory? Can I to such an one act a part, and put on guile, to serve any worldly purpose? "They take the sun out of heaven, who take away friendship out of life": thus wrote the heathen philosopher; but we may say a worthier thing — they take away the sun out of heaven, who take the hope of the resurrection out of friendship.
5. Once more, he who looks for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, will, in proportion as this blessed hope is present to him, find his thoughts of Christ evermore changed and exalted, and made more precious to him. From a distant historical character to a present Saviour — this is the first great change in a man's thoughts of Christ. From a present Saviour to be the desire of his soul — one whose likeness, and nothing else, will satisfy him; this is the next change, and it is no less an one than the former: it is, after all, that which constrains a man, that which leads him on, that which will transform him into Christ's image from glory to glory. And I see not how this latter change can take place, without a man's looking for this blessed hope of the resurrection.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,