1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?…
There are two kinds of doubters: those who wish to doubt, and seek materials to strengthen their unbelief; and those who would be glad to believe, but are perplexed with doubts that they do not cherish. It is impossible to assist the first of these. Their difficulty is not with the head, but with the heart. I shall therefore pursue a line of thought adapted to assist the honest doubter. The text begins, not with an affirmation, but with a question; so I ask, What will follow from the assumption that the gospel of Christ is untrue?
I. THAT GOD HAS NEVER, IN ANY SUPERNATURAL WAY, SPOKEN TO MAN.
1. There is no other religion that can be put into competition for a moment with the gospel as having claims to a supernatural origin. Of course, Judaism you would reject; and Mohammedanism, which is a mixture of Judaism, Christianity, and heathenism, in about equal proportions.
2. We come to systems of philosophy. Plato differed from Socrates in a great variety of modes. And what was the relation of Aristotle to Plato? But what is the condition of affairs to-day? A friend, who has been reading nothing but philosophy for twenty years, testified to me that he has not in all his library two works which substantially agree. But upon the assumption that philosophers do agree, how can they be authenticated? Can a system of philosophy span the river that separates us from the future state? Is it possible for a system of philosophy, without instruction from God, to interpret properly the plans of God, involving the whole course of human life and the final adjustments of eternity? And there will be nothing supernatural in it.
3. Now, let us look at it upon the basis of Nature. J.S. Mill logically argued that Nature is a contradictory witness. Look at her on one side, and she seems to say, "The Being who made us is good." Look at her on the other side, and she seems to say, "He is not good."
II. THE MOST ELEVATING PRECEPTS WE HAVE ARE WITHOUT A DIVINE SANCTION. Take, e.g., the Golden Rule. Some say that it can be found outside the Bible, and I will not deny it; but if it is, it is found without a Divine sanction. No man, according to the Scriptures, can love his neighbour as himself unless he first loves God and recognises the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Now take the specific applications of the Golden Rule. If the gospel be not true, the Sermon on the Mount is a purely human production. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Why? "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven"; and there is no kingdom of heaven if the gospel be not true.
III. THE NOBLEST EXAMPLES ARE FICTITIOUS. The Book of Job must take its place by the side of Shelley's "Queen Mab," as a mere creation of human fancy. The character of Christ is but a rhapsody. Paul's character is entirely inexplicable; and even Peter must be set down as a myth if the gospel be not true.
IV. IT IS FOLLY TO THINK OF PARDON FOR SIN. In nature there is no proof, of any kind, of forgiveness. If the gospel is not true, a man cannot incur guilt, and therefore may dismiss the idea that he is guilty. It his conscience says he is, he can say to it, "You are a presumptuous usurper. There is no law, and I cannot be guilty." But men cannot do that; they know that they are guilty. But the man who has a sense of guilt, if the Bible be not true, has no power to secure its obliteration from his conscience.
V. THERE IS NO REGENERATIVE INFLUENCE. When a man for twenty-five years has tried to keep good resolutions, and has broken them, and has to acknowledge at the end of that time that be has made little progress in purifying his heart, he will do one of two things, according to his temperament: he will sadly relinquish the effort to obtain moral purity, or he will continue on without hope or any inward peace. The gospel of Christ declares that there is a regenerative influence. Now, if the gospel be untrue, there is none such; consequently, to doubt the gospel is to doubt whether there be anything which can possibly make men pure and good.
VI. THERE IS NO COMFORT IN TROUBLE. It has been said by a French writer that philosophy conquers past and future evils. Dr. Johnson represents Rasselas as going to hear a philosopher, who taught him how to subdue his passions and to conquer trials without any difficulty. The next day, however, Rasselas found the philosopher tearing his hair and walking up and down in great agony. "Why this grief?" asked Rasselas. "Oh!" said the philosopher, "my only daughter, the light of my home and comfort of my old age, is dead!" "But, certainly," said Rasselas, "the philosophy which you so eloquently descanted on yesterday comforts you now? "Oh, no," cried the philosopher, wringing his bands; "what can philosophy say to me now, except to show me that my condition is inevitable and incurable?" Rasselas went to Imlac and told him what he had heard, and he replied, "They preach like angels, but they live like men." The gospel does offer comfort to every class of afflicted persons, and Tom Moore only told the truth when he said, "Earth hath no sorrow that heaven cannot heal"; or, as I would say, earth has no sorrow that the gospel does not offer to heal. But if the gospel be untrue, all these offers of consolation are baseless.
VII. THERE IS NO STRENGTH FOR TEMPTATION. How is a man to subdue his passions and propensities? Probably four-fifths of the persons who reject the gospel have sophisticated themselves into the belief that what is natural cannot be wrong. But there are men who reject the gospel that never have done that, and they keep on through life struggling and failing. Now the gospel offers to man several kinds of helps.
1. The commands of Almighty God.
2. Promises for every situation of trial and difficulty.
3. Holy examples of men of like passions with ourselves.
4. The privilege of taking these commands and of strengthening his faith by them at the very throne of grace.But if the gospel be untrue, every promise and command in the Bible may be thrown aside as a matter without any foundation in fact.
VIII. THERE IS NO ANSWER TO PRAYER. A distinguished rationalistic preacher ceased to preach, and a friend asked him why he stepped. Said he, "I liked the preaching, and could have got along with it very well as long as I lived; but there was one thing I could not get along with at all, and that was prayer. I did not expect my prayers would be answered, and never believed they would; and to stand up before the congregation and address the Deity as if I really believed that prayer produced a result, seemed to me too much like hypocrisy." No man will long pray who has not a specific promise upon which to rest.
IX. THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE IS IMPERILLED. This cannot be sustained without a religious sanction, and never was in the history of this world. The heaviest strain on human nature is chastity, and it cannot be sustained unless the obligation rests upon a solemn accountability to God, and the human race cannot sustain it without religious sanction after marriage, and never have. Polygamy, on the one hand, and either spiritual or carnal or free love on the other, would certainly spring up, as they have done, to run riot all over the world.
X. YOU UPROOT THE WHOLE IDEA OF FUTURE ACCOUNTABILITY, and the question of whether a man will live or die becomes a question of logic. What reason is there why a man utterly dissatisfied with life should not commit suicide? Suppose the case of a man wile has lost all his friends, his property, and his reputation? He is too old to begin again. Prove that he ought not to commit suicide. I cannot, unless you give me the gospel. You cannot find an instance of a sane, devoted, intelligent Christian, remitting suicide: but you can produce a hundred instances of irreligious men not insane committing suicide. The reason men are committing suicide, and making such a trifling thing of it, is the spread of infidelity, the spread of doubts as to future accountability.
XI. EVERYTHING WITH REGARD TO A FUTURE STATE OF HAPPINESS MUST BE REMANDED TO THE REALM OF CONJECTURE. No man can prove a future state in any proper sense of the term. If you could show it to be probable, you could not determine the mode of existence, or the relation between the future and the present life, or get any means whatever to do so. Then, if the gospel be not true, let us face the issue and strike out, "In My Father's house are many mansions." Conclusion: Is it rational to believe that God has given no voice to man? Is it rational to believe that the noblest precepts are without a Divine sanction, etc.? It is not! Rather than believe that, I would believe "There is no God!" But because I cannot say there is no God, I must say that He has spoken to man; and because I must say that, I must believe that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has a supernatural origin.
(J. M. Buckley, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?