1 Corinthians 15:19
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
I. WHAT THE TEXT IMPLIES.
1. That there is misery amongst men on this earth. This is obvious. "Man is born to trouble." But great as it is —
(1) It is not as great as man deserves. All suffering springs from sin. Misery does not grow out of the constitution of things.
(2) It is not as great as man's happiness. For days and weeks of affliction he has months and years of happiness.
(3) It is not as great as the good it will ultimately work out.
2. That misery amongst men exists in different degrees. Paul speaks of the "most miserable." There is a great inequality of suffering here. There must come a day for eternal justice to balance these accounts.
3. That the degree of misery is sometimes regulated by hope. Paul speaks of "hope" as having to do with making men "most miserable." Man is ever living in the future; he seldom turns willingly to the past; his past sins terrify him, and even his past pleasures depress him. The present satisfies him not. His home is in the future. It is obvious that a principle so powerful must exert a wonderful influence, either for weal or woe. If the hope is directed to right objects, and rightly founded, it will be as a firm anchor, holding his ship securely amidst the tumultuous billows of his stormy life. But should his hope be not rightly directed and grounded, it is clear that though it may afford him for a time some amount of enjoyment, it will ultimately end in his confusion and distress.
4. That the hope of a Christian, if false, will make him of "all men most miserable."
II. WHAT THE TEXT MEANS.
1. Not —
(1) That apart from the resurrection of Christ, man has no evidence of a future state. All the Jews except the Sadducees believed in the existence of a future retribution; and Paul as a philosopher knew that human nature and human history prophesied a future state.
(2) That on the supposition that there is no future life, the practice of virtue here would place man in a worse condition than that of vice. This would not be true; the life of virtue as embodied in Christianity would give a man considerable advantage even in this world.
(3) That apart from a future state a godly life is not binding on man. Were there no heaven, no hell, man's obligation to love his Maker "with all his heart, soul, strength," would still remain.
2. Two things must be distinctly kept in mind in order fully to apprehend the idea of the apostle.
(1) That he is speaking of himself and his evangelical contemporaries. The sufferings which they brought upon themselves in consequence of their faith in Christianity, and their efforts to extend it through the world, were unique in their enormity. In this age our faith in Christianity, and our endeavours to propagate it, entail little or no inconvenience.
(2) That he supposes the disappointed to survive the discovery of the delusion. The very first flash of the terrible truth, that there was no future blessedness, would scathe their spirits into everlasting annihilation, and there would of course be no misery at all in the case. We must suppose the apostle therefore having the idea that there was a future state, in which he should live in vivid memories of the past. Up to the time of discovery, however great their suffering, Christians could not be "most miserable." An enthusiast, whatever his physical affections, is happy; he revels amidst the hallucinations of his own brain, and requires none of your pity if he survive not the discovery of his delusion.
III. THESE SUPPOSITIONS ENABLES US TO SEE THAT THE MISERY OF WHICH THE APOSTLE SPEAKS IS THE MISERY OF A TREMENDOUS DISAPPOINTMENT. Note —
1. The power which the blighted hope had obtained over the whole soul. There are some hopes that take but a slight hold upon the heart: But there are hopes like the tree that strikes its roots deep into the very fibre of our nature. When such hopes are torn away, it is as the "giving up of the ghost." Imagine the case of a man who had thrown his whole being into Christianity, being met at the moment when his hopes were at their zenith, and when his death was at hand, with the conviction that all was a delusion; and you have a man of all men "most miserable." Imagine that man still further fixed in a future state of deep despair, and regarding himself as the hopeless victim of a life of folly. Would he not say, Fool that I have been in spending a whole life in aiming at objects that were purely visionary. Had I been wise I should have adopted the maxim, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
2. The deception which the blighted hope prompted its subjects to practise. The apostle declares that on the assumption that Christ rose from the dead, they were "false witnesses of God." Most assuredly if there be no future state of blessedness, the whole life of the Christian is a living lie. His deception is —
(1) Earnest. He "counts not his life dear unto him," if he can only make men participate in his creed.
(2) Systematic. It is not an occasional or spasmodic effort; it is the organised purpose of his being. He rears temples, forms societies, circulates books, preaches discourses, in order to win men over to his views.
(3) Influential. He succeeds in his proselytism. Such is the deception Christians practise on the hypothesis that there is no future life in Him. How much would the memory of their deception heighten the misery of their disappointment on the discovery of their own terrible mistake! The feeling that they themselves had been deluded would be well-nigh intolerable; but the feeling that they had deluded others would be crushing.
3. The destitution in which the departure of the hope would involve the soul. Christianity works a most radical change in a man. It effects a "regeneration." Under its influence man becomes "a new creation"; old things pass away, all things become new; what he once loved he loathes, what he once sought he shuns, what he once valued he despises, what things were gain to him he counts loss. On the discovery therefore of the delusion, he would be left in possession of tastes and desires for which there was no provision. A thousand times worse is the state of such a soul than that of a parched traveller, who, beneath the agonising fires of thirst, falls prostrate on the Oriental sands, many leagues away from the refreshing streams. Conclusion: Thank God this is only hypothetic. The apostle does not speak as if he had any doubt, but in order to bring out the glorious fact on which it rests with greater fire and force. "But now is Christ risen from the dead," etc.We have hope in a blessed future, and therefore —
1. When bereavement snatches from our embrace the dearest objects of our heart, let us not sorrow as do others.
2. Let us not envy the wicked in their prosperity, but bear up with fortitude, knowing that "our light afflictions which are but for a moment," etc.
3. Let us labour earnestly to indoctrinate all within our reach with the soul-saving principles of the everlasting word.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.