1 Corinthians 15:19
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
St. Paul, in this great passage, makes Christianity answer with its life for the truth of our Lord's resurrection from the dead (ver. 14). If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we have made a capital mistake, and are of all men most miserable.
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."
Parallel VersesKJV: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.