1 Corinthians 15:1-12
Moreover, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;…
1. The first impossible consequence may be called the argument from mind, and is thus expressed: "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not raised." What Paul really means to say is this: If there be no immortality of the soul, Christ is dead — the highest of minds has become extinct. It may seem as if this were a mode of reasoning which never would be used in modern times. A writer of our day would certainly put it differently; he would say, Are all the aspirations of the human soul to count for nothing — all the yearnings after moral purity, all the search for truth, all the thirst for beauty? To him the aspirations of the human soul were all fulfilled already in the image of a perfect mind. The life of the Son of Man was, for him, the synonym for all that humanity ever did, or even can do, in the path of greatness; it was aspiration crystallised into fact. Accordingly, when he says, if there be no immortality, Christ is dead, there is a deep significance in his words. It is quite equivalent to saying, what becomes of the dignity of man? The notion that Christ could be dead was to Paul a contradiction in terms. Sometimes a man gets his whole conviction of immortality from his inability to realise the death of a single soul. There are presences in this world so vivid and so strong that their removal by death dissipates the idea of death; they are our types of immortality. But what was Christ to Paul? To say He was a strong and vivid presence is to say nothing; He was a presence that literally filled all things. That such a being should cease to be was, for him, a contingency unthinkable, that God should suffer His Holy One to see corruption was a paradox unparalleled.
2. The second of those impossible conclusions which St. Paul derives from the denial of immortality is expressed in the words: "Your faith is vain." Put into modern form, his meaning is this: "If Christ be not raised" — if the highest imaginable powers of the human mind have been extinguished in death, then we have an anomaly in the universe — a faculty without an object. We must remember that, in the view of Paul, faith is not a mere act of credulity; it is a faculty, a power of the soul. This is shown by his tendency to oppose faith to sight, clearly implying that the former is an inner vision, as the latter is an outer vision. Wheresoever he turns he can find no other trace of a faculty without an object. Every sense has its environment, every power its appropriate field of exercise. Is the sense of the supernatural to have no object? The sense of the supernatural is what Paul calls faith — that faculty which looks "to the things that are unseen." These unseen things are to him at once the symbols and the proofs of immortality; they are not "temporal" but "eternal." If the existence of these be a delusion, then we have an eye without light, an ear without music, a hand without material to work upon, a sense of beauty without the symmetry to fill it; our faculty of faith is useless, objectless, vain. From this point of view it becomes easy to understand St. Paul's collateral statement, that "our preaching is vain." It is cruel to stimulate a sense of want which no scene of existence can ever gratify; to awake a power into being which no sphere of life will ever require is a process of education which can only lead to pain. The fact that no faculty can be vain is itself the proof that "Christ is risen."
3. This brings us to the third argument. It is different in its nature both from those that precede and from those that follow it. They are founded upon facts which appeal to the universal nature of man; this, in the first instance at least, rests on an historical experience of the apostle's own life and on an emotion induced by it. He says, If there be no resurrection, and if therefore the highest specimen of the human mind be dead, then I am found a false witness for Christ, to whose rising I testify. What Paul really means to say is: If there be no resurrection, I am myself an anomaly; "We are found false witnesses for God," i.e., for goodness — false witnesses for the immortality of self-sacrifice. Such is the paradox or impossible consequence, which Paul here designs to convey. One cannot but remark what a singular light St. Paul here unwittingly throws on his own character as a witness. He suggests even more than he means. He only wants to prove that he is not a false witness in relation to others; he powerfully impresses us with the additional conviction that he is not a false witness in relation to himself. For, as we follow him in the foregoing train of thought, we see that this man even in his Christianity is no fanatic.
4. St. Paul states his fourth argument thus: "If there be no resurrection, and if therefore Christ be not risen, ye are yet in your sins." It is an argument which is often misunderstood. Paul is speaking, not of a miserable consequence, but of an impossible consequence. What he means is really this: if there be no Christian immortality, there cannot be at this moment in the world a Christian life; ye are in this case yet in your sins: there is no power keeping you from evil. But your own experience tells you that this is not true; you are not in your sins. There is a life within you which is not part of your natural life, nor a product of that life — a spirit lusting against your flesh, a law of your mind warring with the law of your members. What is it? Whence came it? How do you explain it? If there be nothing but earth and the conditions of earth, in what manner shall we account for a sentiment which transcends those conditions? If there be no resurrection, you ought to be yet in your sins; how comes it to pass that you are not in your sins? To Kant the existence, of a moral law within the soul was the very demonstration of a life transcending the present order of being. St. Paul, instead of seeking the evidence of a risen Christ in the documents of antiquity, seeks it in the Church of his own day; nay, in himself as a member of that Church. He asks what it is that has given rise to this stream of Christian feeling, which is ever widening into an ocean of universal love. He cannot find a source for that stream in the soil of the natural life; for it flows in a channel the reverse of what we call natural. He is forced, therefore, to seek it in a life beyond nature; and the only such life he can find is that said to have been lived by the Son of Man. The evidence that Christ is risen is the consciousness that we are not in our sins.
5. We pass to St. Paul's final argument. He says: If there be no possible resurrection even of the highest life, if even Christ be not risen, then they that have fallen asleep are perished. This, then, is the argument from affection, since it is evident that here St. Paul directs his main appeal to the feelings of the heart. It would be unfair to say, however, that on this account it is less logical than his other arguments. The feelings of the heart are just as much facts of nature as the sensations of the body, and the intuitions of the intellect. St. Paul, therefore, has a perfect right to appeal to the human heart, whose instincts would be violated by the denial of immortality.
(G. Matheson, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;