1 Corinthians 15:19
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
These words have been a cause of much distress. Christians have felt that their hope in Christ made this life joyful to them. No doubt the very name "hope" implies a looking forward. But they do not find that the mere thought of a change in their position constitutes their blessedness. "Lo, I am with you always"; "My peace I give unto you"; there, they say, is the secret of it. Certainly they have a right to claim St. Paul in general as the witness and highest authority for their persuasion. "All things are yours," etc., he said to these very Corinthians. He speaks of himself as "rejoicing in tribulation." He wished that Aguippa, Festus, and Bernice, and all who heard him, "were both almost and altogether such as he was, except those bonds." Was, then, that so terrible an exception, that he regarded the worshippers of false gods less miserable, as far as this life went, than he was? Does any one who knows anything of St. Paul's life and words believe this? Those very bonds became a cause of exultation to him, because through them Christ's name was made known in Rome. He counted, not some future promised felicity, but his office as an apostle of the Gentiles, which caused him to be the offscouring of all things, the highest privilege ever bestowed upon a mortal. Is this a man who was likely to say, "I am utterly miserable here; but I can endure my lot, for I shall he well paid hereafter"? But if that is not the meaning of the words, what is it?
1. The Corinthians had heard him say, "We are risen with Christ." A party of them had built on this the conclusion that their spiritual resurrection was all that Christ had procured for them. St. Paul shows them that they were turning this half-truth, not to the destruction of the other half merely, but of itself. If they were not to rise in their bodies, Christ their Lord had not risen in His body. The very ground of the spiritual resurrection, of which they boasted, was their union with Him. God had justified them in Him. The new doctrine, in effect, disclaimed, his relation between them and Him. It left them a set of poor, separated, unredeemed creatures; "yet in their sins." It was very miserable to believe such a contradiction as this would be.
2. Christ had broken through the barriers of death, had brought the visible and the invisible world into one. Those who said "The Resurrection only concerns us here," established this separation again, and treated Death as to all intents and purposes the ultimate ruler, Life as shut up within threescore years and ten of conflict. This was to confound the dim hope of all nations. When the sense of present misery was very acute, there was a prophecy, arising in some minds almost to a conviction, that the other side of death might offer a compensation. Had not St. Paul a right to say then "If we possess all that Christ came to give us, He has taken from us something which He has not taken from any others. That which has never been altogether a blank to them, in which there have been some bright Elysian spots, has become entirely a blank to us." But it may be said, "The apostle speaks of a hope in Christ. What could such a hope have to do with dreams of Greeks or Goths respecting an Elysium or a Walhalla? Being heathens, they certainly could not hope in Him." But the principle which underlies all the apostle's teaching is that when Christ took flesh and dwelt among men, He declared Himself to be that King, whose manifestation in His own true and proper nature all had been desiring. If this be so, I cannot imagine how he could describe any hope which had ever been entertained by any human being, except as a hope in Christ. The gods whom Greeks or Goths worshipped could have kindled no hopes in them, only a vague, inconceivable dread. Whatever hope they had came from a secret source, a hidden root. The apostle, then, might truly say, that if the Corinthians who professed to believe that Jesus was the Christ, made His work upon earth an excuse for not looking beyond the earth, they had parted with some of the hope in Christ which their heathen brethren possessed.
3. But there is an ampler justification of the apostle's words. He had a much deeper impression of the misery of the world around him than any person who did not believe in the gospel could have had. The devil-worship and the sin which prevailed was revolting to him who worshipped a God of love, and who believed that the Spirit of Christ had come among men to make them after His image. Feeling as he did their misery, it would absolutely have crushed him if in this life only he had had hope in Christ, if he could have measured the future of mankind merely by anything that he saw or had yet experienced. The thought which we should often bring before ourselves as we walk our streets, and as we read of what is doing in other parts of the world, is — Are our hopes in Christ, for those whom we see perishing in filth, in ignorance, in moral debasement, only hopes for this life? Is the wisdom of rulers, the godliness of teachers, the benevolence of societies, all which seems to us to intervene between them and utter, absolute ruin? Oh, then, surely we must be of all men most miserable! To think of all the wickedness which is crowded into the most fortunate corner of this earth, and not to feel something very like despair, is very difficult. It would be impossible, if we were not encouraged and commanded to place our hopes, not in what we are doing, but in what Christ has done by His death, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Holy Spirit. If we think that nothing is given yet; that we are merely to look for something to come, we are most miserable. If we think that all has been given — that we have nothing to long for — we are most miserable. But if we accept the signs and pledges of a perfect sacrifice made once for all, the vision of Him who died once and reigneth for evermore will become brighter and clearer.
(F. D. Maurice, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.