1 Corinthians 15:53-57
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.…
Those who take thought for immortality are divided into two schools, the sensuous and the spiritual. The one picture to themselves a heaven of physical blessedness, a glorified earth — immortality only the state of the well-developed mortal! The other class regard heaven as a state utterly unlike the mortal — where the soul shall exist in the transcendental majesty of a risen spirit rather than as a redeemed and yet veritable man in Christ Jesus. Now both of these notions are alike unphilosophic and unscriptural. The text teaches not transubstantiation, but transfiguration — a change not of an essence, but only of aspects — and gives us twofold data for solving the problem of the after state.
I. THE IDENTITY OF THE IMMORTAL CREATURE WITH THE MORTAL. Though at death we are unquestionably to lose whatever belongs only to this rudimental life — as the chrysalis drops the exuviae in developing the wings — yet all faculties and functions essentially human are to be ours for ever.
1. Even in regard of the body is this strictly true. Whatever may be the bliss of the intermediate state yet reason and revelation alike declare it to be unnatural, and so imperfect. Death, self-considered, cannot be a benefit. It is not a step in a progress — it is an interruption, a judicial infliction, God's curse upon sin. Indeed, how the soul can act when divested of this body we cannot understand. And therefore from the dust, as a trophy of the mediatorship, is to be reconstructed a new body like Christ's, to be part of the redeemed and immortal man.
2. This identity is more manifestly true in regard to the mind. Even as a philosophic inquiry there appears no reason why death should work any change in our rational nature. Accepting immortality as a simple matter of faith we should expect that, as the last enemy rocked its dwelling into dust, it would emerge from the ruins with all its peculiar habits of thought, and at precisely its attained point of progress.
3. And so with the affections. There is no stranger mistake than that which regards these as the specialities of the present life. The heart is among the most indestructible elements of our being. Pure intellect, unsoftened by affection, is simply monstrous. Entering heaven with our logic intensified and our love gone, our sympathies would be fiendish. In this respect "the mortal does put on immortality." Said our Saviour, standing by the beloved dead with the sisters of Bethany, "He shall rise again 'your brother' still." Death annihilates no pure affection wherein a Christian heart rejoices. "The water of life" is no Lethe of forgetfulness. Death, then, does not destroy nor mutilate the mortal. The immortal creature will be man with a human body, a human intellect, a human heart.
II. THE MARVELLOUS AND ALL-GLORIOUS TRANSFIGURATION OF THAT NATURE. The word "immortality" is a simple negative. There are things for which human language can have no name. While we remain mortal, inspiration can only describe the future in negatives.
1. The body shall be the same with eye to see and tongue to speak, but as the seed is transfigured into the queenly flower, so great shall the change be. With what new senses and organs it may be furnished God hath not told us. In this very chapter Paul seems struggling under the burden of the magnificent description — "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption." And what notion can we form of incorruptible matter? "It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory." The body, a house of leprosy, with all its senses instruments of temptation, is to be reconstructed into a palace of the higher life — fashioned like Christ's glorious body! "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." This poor, imperfect instrument of the intellect, requiring constant care lest it be injured by the using, shall be changed into a mighty and imperishable engine wherewith to work out unwearied the grand ministrics of eternity! "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." Its material elements, no longer controlled by material inertia, impenetrability, and attraction, but (like Christ's raised body, which could pass closed doors and float up to the firmament) shall be the equipment of the soul when it would explore the mysteries of creation and traverse immensity in adoring contemplation.
2. If the dwelling-place be thus glorified what a transfiguration must await the spirit. inhabitant! This intellect, how it sometimes towers and triumphs! What discoveries it hath made! Milton's song! Newton's march through the universe! Yet all this was the mortal; the doings of the cradled child with its playthings. And who shall tell us, then, of the child's manhood?
3. But unto man's heart rather than to his head shall be accorded the loftiest prizes of eternity! To think of that (while unchanged in all its gentle, blessed, earthly affections) putting on immortality, is the highest conception we can form of man's kingship and priesthood in the city of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.