1 Corinthians 15:46
However, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
The method of God's working is upward progress. His path is "as the Shining light," etc.
I. IN THE CREATION OF THE MATERIAL WORLD. First, there was the globe without life; then a world filled with life and beauty. First the protozoans, molluscs, and sponges of the primeval world; after that, man created in the image of God.
II. IN THE NATURAL DEVELOPMENT OF EACH INDIVIDUAL MAN.
1. There is helpless infancy. Physical, mental, spiritual forces, and wild passions sleep in that little nebulous mass like thunderstorms in the quiet clouds or summer.
2. By and by we arrive at youth, this blossoming season of our nature, the time of fancy.
3. After that comes manhood. There is now fulness of reason and strength and responsibility.
III. IN THE DISPENSATIONS OF REVEALED RELIGION. "The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Moses was an inspired man: Christ is "God manifest in the flesh." Moses was faithful as a servant over all his house — Christ as a Son in His own house, whose house are we; and the grace and truth are more excellent than the law. The law demands obedience, but gives no help to obey; the gospel creates within us new hearts which make obedience a delight. The law revealed sin; the gospel proclaims pardon. The law threatens; the gospel invites. The great promise of the law was," Thou shalt inherit the land"; that of the gospel is, "I give unto them eternal life," etc. The law was for one nation; the gospel is for the whole world. The law was the shadow; the gospel is the substance. The law was bondage; the gospel is liberty.
IV. IN CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE AND IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
1. Faith in religion is easy in childhood. Little children fresh from the hand of God are not sceptics. They have the power of reverence and faith. For a time they worship father and mother. They never regard the material universe as a thing to be weighed, and understood, and measured. It is to them a solemn mystery. Being thus constituted, it is the easiest thing in the world to teach a child to utter words of prayer.
2. The young man discovers that much ignorance has mingled with the reverence of childhood, and has not sufficient experience to replace his early fancy with the solid structure of reality and truth. Besides, the powers of childhood become full in youth. Self-will is strong, and the whole republic of the passions is up in arms against the authority of reason and conscience. But Christ is there, and His voice is heard amid the arrogant and noisy voices of the flesh. There is a long struggle. The young man wavers; but, thank God! Christ perseveres, and the "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" shows that Christ has taken possession of his will.
3. The struggle is not yet over. A time of deep thought and anxious reflection arrives, and brings with it an intense desire to know the reason of faith, the basis of belief. The intellect demands greater evidence than is or can be given. It asks for demonstration. But during this time of intellectual revolt Christ is there; Christ speaks with authority and love, "Believe on Me when thou canst not know. Worship before the mystery; what thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter." Christ is victorious again, and the pride of the intellect subsides, and the mind bows before Christ, saying, "Thou art the power and wisdom of God; and I wish to be Thine for ever and ever."
4. After this comes old age — the best period of all by far. Childhood is untried innocence; youth little better than rebellion against Christ; manhood a struggle against intellectual difficulties and spiritual enemies; but as the years pass on, the man's whole nature is subdued and sanctified. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart. The peace of God, which passeth understanding, keeps his heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Joy unspeakable and full of glory flows in plentifully upon his spirit. By and by visitors from the unseen come and say, in tones never heard before, "Brother, come away." What is best in the tree is the last to get perfect.
V. IN THE INCREASE OF THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IN THE WORLD. Here we may well ask, Can the gospel live and multiply? Think of China and India, whose very nature is engrained with their false religion and their fantastic philosophy. Can they be changed? But we need not go so far to seek difficulties. Think of the state of things here in England. Think, e.g., of the adoration of wealth and appearances. Can religion live in this dense atmosphere of worldliness? Think again of the unbelief of the age in which we live. There are unhealthy summer days when physical activity is almost an impossibility. A heavy, oppressive, stagnant atmosphere weighs down upon the land. That is a symbol of the spiritual atmosphere of Europe to-day. It is permeated with a spirit of unbelief. I ask again, then, Can Christianity live? Yes.
1. It has lived and increased in spite of the most determined opposition. After eighteen hundred years of trial and opposition, "the foundation of God standeth sure." The powers of men and the powers of darkness have exerted themselves to remove this foundation, but it standeth sure, in spite of persecution and in spite of criticism.
2. Christianity has affinities with all good things. Truth, virtue, love, science, philosophy, literature, are good, and the gospel is nearly related to all these. It creates them where they do not already exist; and where they exist, it inspires and promotes them. Nothing good dies. It is falsehood, and not truth; evil, and not good; moral deformity, and not moral beauty, that is going to disappear. The gospel is the grandest truth, the greatest good, the most beautiful revelation ever given to man; and therefore it cannot perish. "The word of the Lord endureth for ever."
3. We have the old promise of the Holy Ghost. Goethe's last words were, "More light! more light!" This is the cry of the age. It is not more external evidence that is needed, but more internal illumination, more power of spiritual vision in the minds of men. The light is here in Divine plenitude. Christianity is either supernatural or it is nothing. Christianity makes its way in the world by the coming of the Spirit of God into contact with the spirits of men. Conclusion: The progress is not rapid. But let the Church calm her heart. Let us learn to wait and work. And, above all things, let us not be afraid. "He that believeth shall not make haste." God's method is upward progress, and that upward progress is slow in its development. But the progress is certain, and the end is sure.
(T. Jones, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.