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. Because this chapter forms part of the Funeral Service, and every syllable stands associated with some mournful moment in our lives, is one reason why the exposition is attended with some difficulty. It sounds more like stately music heard in the stillness of night than like an argument.
2. The subject, like almost all the others treated of in this Epistle, had been forced upon the apostle by the heresies which had crept into the Corinthian Church. Note the great difference made by the apostle between moral wrong-doing and intellectual error. When incest had been committed the apostle at once commanded expulsion, but here he only expostulates with and endeavours to set the heretics right.
3. In the present day this error arises out of materialism. Now the unbelief of those distant ages was something very different from this. But the Corinthians denied the resurrection of the body because they believed that matter was the cause of all evil; and they hailed the gospel chiefly because it gave them the hope of being liberated from the flesh with its corrupt desires. They regarded the resurrection therefore as a figurative expression. The apostle now controverts this error, and he does it by a twofold line of argument.
I. BY HISTORICAL PROOFS OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST (vers. 4-8).
1. The Christian doctrine was not merely immortality, but resurrection; the historical fact of Christ's resurrection being the substantial pledge of ours.
2. There are two forms in which it is conceivable that Christianity may exist — essential and historical. Suppose, e.g., that without the aid of Christ, a man could arrive at the chief Christian doctrines — the Fatherhood of God; that it is a Divine Spirit which is the source of all goodness in man; that the righteousness acceptable in His sight is not ceremonial but moral goodness, etc., he would have arrived at the essence of Christianity. And history tells us that before the Redeemer's advent there were a few who, by the aid of the Spirit of God, had reached to a knowledge which is marvellous to us. By historical Christianity, however, we mean not those truths abstractedly, but considered as actually existing in the life of Christ. Reverence for persons precedes the belief in truths. A few remarkable exceptions have reached truth without knowing Him who is the Truth, but this is not the rule. Those truths which you hold deepest, you have gained not by the illumination of your intellect, but first by trusting in some great or good one, and then, through Him, by obtaining credible evidence of those truths. Take, e.g., the doctrine of the resurrection. The times when it seemed almost incredible to us were those in which we began to despair of human nature — when some great crime or meanness had set us wondering why such beings should be permitted to live hereafter. And the moments when we believed most strongly in it were the moments when we felt assured that human perfectibility was no dream, since we saw the evidence of a goodness most like God's which could not be limited by death. Carry on this principle, and then you have the very spirit of historical Christianity. For we do not believe that there shall be a life to come merely because there is something within us which craves for it, but because we have believed in the life and death and resurrection of the Man of Nazareth. Our Christianity is not merely the abstract truths which Christ taught, but Christ Himself.
II. BY THE ARGUMENT "REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM" (vers. 13-20). "If there be no resurrection —
1. Then is Christ not risen. It is an absurdity to believe that that man perished. The Son of Man grounded His pretensions on this, that He should rise again from the dead. If, then, He did not, He was an impostor; and you are driven to this, that a holy life is not a whit more certain of attaining to God's truth than a false one.
2. The Christian faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Except in the belief of the resurrection the quitting of sin is impossible. "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," is an inevitable conclusion. And you are driven also to this, that, just as all other religions have failed in redeeming man from sin, the Christian religion has also failed. It has become the fashion to hold that in proportion as a belief in the resurrection enters into our motives, right-doing loses its value, that he alone can do any really good work who disbelieves in a life hereafter, because he alone does good for its own sake and not from the hope of reward. But —
(1) In removing the hope of the life to come you have taken away all that makes life worth possessing, or mankind worth living for. Why should we labour for beings scarcely higher than the "half-reasoning elephant"?
(2) To do right Christianly is not doing so for the sake of happiness in the world to come, but for life. "It is more life and fuller that we want."
3. The apostles would be found false witnesses. There is something touching in the manner in which the apostle writes this. That he should be a false witness! He does not leave room for supposing the possibility of a mistake. It was either true or false. James, Cephas, the twelve, the five hundred, either had or had not seen the Lord Jesus; Thomas either had or had not put his finger into the print of the nails; either the resurrection was a fact, or else the apostles were intentional false witnesses before God. Now there is a certain instinct within us generally which enables us to detect when a man is speaking the truth. Truth has a certain ring by which it may be known. Now this chapter rings with truth; and before you can believe that there is no resurrection, you must believe that this glorious chapter was written by one who knew at his heart that he was speaking what was false. Another witness to this fact was the Apostle Peter. There are two things which rarely go together, courage and falsehood. There are circumstances in which a brave and honest man may be betrayed by the sudden force of temptation into a dereliction from the truth, and such a thing had occurred in the life of St. Peter. But after his bitter repentance he went forth and stood as upon a rock, protesting that he knew that the Lord was risen. There must he a cause given for this. Can we believe that the man who laid his hand on the axe, or he who asked that he might be crucified with his head downwards, as unworthy to die as his Redeemer died, that his life was a systematic and continued falsehood kept up to the very last; and that the brave, true man with his dying lips gave utterance to a lie?
4. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished, i.e., the noblest of the human race have lived — only to die for ever. You are required to believe, moreover, that they attained to this excellence by believing what was false, namely, the resurrection; so that we are driven to this strange paradox — that by believing that which is false we become pure and noble, and by believing that which is true we become base and selfish! Believe this who can!
(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;