The Natural Precedes the Spiritual
1 Corinthians 15:46
However, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

Many an objector, on hearing the saying of ver. 44, might say, Why should not God create the perfect spiritual life at once? St. Paul in answer applies a general law of the universe to the case before him. It would be contrary to the Divine order in God's creation, which is first the natural, and afterward the spiritual. Consider —

I. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS LAW. This is disclosed —

1. In the order of creation. Note the principle of gradation on which the universe arose in Genesis. And this is confirmed at every step by science. First, the formless earth, then the green herb, then the lowest forms of animal existence, then the highest types, then man, the last and noblest. And then, perhaps, an age to come, with a higher and nobler race of beings.

2. In the progress of the Jewish nation. Recollect their origin. They were a nation of slaves. Originally, too, they were of a rude, hard stock, and became in Egypt and in Palestine sensual, idolatrous, and money-loving. You are reminded of one of those trees whose exposed roots are seen gnarled and twisted, hard as iron, more like rock than wood, and yet whose foliage above is rich and noble: below extends the basis of the coarse and natural, above are manifested the beautiful and spiritual. By slow gradations did this nation of slaves rise into a spiritual people.

3. In the progress of the human race. St. Paul says, Adam was "of the earth, earthy"; and again, he calls him "a living soul," that is, a natural man — a man with intelligence, perception, and a moral sense, with power to form a society and to subdue Nature to herself. The fall, then, was a step downwards from innocence, but also it was a giant step in human progress. It made goodness possible: for to know the evil, and to conquer it and choose the good, is far nobler than a state which only consists in our ignorance of both. Until the step of nature has been passed, the step of spirituality cannot be made. Thus did the race begin to share in the spiritual; and among many nations, and by means of many men, was the progress of mankind evolved; but their light was too scattered, and their isolated lives imparted little life. So the next stage in the progress of the race was the coming of Christ, the spiritual Man, whose prerogative it was, not as the first Adam, to live in Eden for Himself, but as the second Adam, to die on Calvary for others; not as the first Adam, to receive happiness, but as the second Adam, to confer life. It was no longer the natural man, but the quickening Spirit, that represented the race to God.


1. Our natural affections precede our spiritual. According to the two great commandments, in the order of importance the love of God is first; in the order of time the love of man. Love to man also begins lower down. We do not love our neighbours first, nor embrace the race in our affection all at once; we ascend from a lower point. The table given on Sinai only specifies one kind of love, but in the fifth commandment they all lie as the furture oak-tree lies in the acorn; the root of all the other developments of love is love and honour unto parents. "The child is father to the man." The friend, the husband, the citizen are formed at the domestic hearth. Out of human love grows love to God. For a time the father represents God to the child. He is to train the affections which afterwards shall be given to God; and the brother those which shall expand hereafter for Christ. You cannot force love to God.

2. The moral precedes the spiritual. There is a time when the Adam is formed within us, when the Christ begins to be formed, when we feel within us the sense of "Christ in us, the hope of glory," when the "living soul," as ruler of the man, gives place to the "quickening spirit." But there are two slates through which we pass.

(1) It was through temptation that the first Adam fell from a state of nature. It was through temptation, too, that the second Adam redeemed humanity into a state of grace.

(2) Through sorrow.

(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

WEB: However that which is spiritual isn't first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual.

The Natural and the Spiritual
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