« AnteriorContinua »
ON THE RESURRECTION.
1 CORINTHIANS XV. 29-34.
Else what shall they do, who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not.
THIS chapter is among the finest passages in the writings of one who-though, in reference to his former opposition to the faith to which he was converted, styled himself the least of the apostlesranks the foremost among them in all the qualities which constitute an able and eloquent reasoner. In perspicuity and strength of argument, in variety of striking illustration, in strong and felicitous contrast, in pathos and sublimity, both of sentiment and style, it cannot probably be surpassed.
The doctrine of the resurrection is the subject of the apostle's animated reasoning. The fact of Christ's resurrection he proves, by urging the testimony of eye-witnesses, of those who had seen Jesus after his crucifixion and death. From the truth of Christ's resurrection the apostle infers the resurrection of the dead in general. The doctrine of
the resurrection of the body he directly asserts as a truth inseparably connected with the resurrection of Christ: and then he proceeds to enforce it by auxiliary arguments; to prove its probability from analogy; to contrast the natural with the glorified body of the righteous; and he closes his interesting argument in strains of triumph in the highest degree animating and consolatory:
"This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
This chapter is selected by our church as the lesson in the burial service; and I am confident, that, on occasions when you have heard it read, your judgment has testified to the wisdom of the church in the selection. For those awful solemnities when we visit the mansions of the dead, to deposit in their gloomy receptacles the bodies of those whom we have known and whom we have loved, it is not in the power of the human mind to furnish sentiments more animating and consolatory; nor can language, in her varied powers, convey these sentiments in a style more simple, and yet more forcible and affecting.
The words which I have chosen as my text, occur in the course of this interesting passage of the apostle; and they are a part of it, where the force of his reasoning seems in some degree impaired by the obscurity of some of the expressions which he employs. It is proper, therefore, to attempt to explain these expressions, and to ascertain their genuine signification, in order that the reasoning of the apostle may strike us with its full force.
In these words he offers two arguments in favour of the resurrection of the dead.
1. The first argument he draws from baptism for the dead. "Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"
2. The second argument is founded on the sufferings and trials which Christians endured. "And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die."
3. A practical exhortation follows. "Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not."
1. The apostle draws his first argument for the resurrection, from baptism for the dead. "Else what shall they do, who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"
The obscurity of this passage arises from the equivocal meaning of the phrase, "baptized for the dead."
It is possible that this may have referred to some custom peculiar to the first age of Christianity, and of which no knowledge has been handed down to the present day; and then we must be content to remain in ignorance of the force of the reasoning of the apostle. It is much more probable, however, that in a strain of reasoning establishing a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, a doctrine intimately mingled with all the consolations and all the hopes of Christians, the apostle would not have drawn his allusions from temporary customs.
But there is an interpretation of this passage, which has respectable authority for its support :
In the primitive ages of Christianity, when the sword of persecution was dyed with the blood of the saints, the spiritual birth of Christians in baptism was the prelude to martyrdom; and yet, such was the force of divine truth, such the clear and strong evidence which surrounded the Gospel, and such was the power of the Divine Spirit in impressing this evidence on the understanding, and in fortifying the soul to bear testimony to it, that the hosts of saints who died for the testimony of Jesus, were succeeded by others, who enlisted in baptism under the same banner which had exposed their predecessors to persecution and death. With this fact in view, the phrase, "baptized for the dead," has been considered as signifying, baptized in the room, in the place of, as successors to those who were dead; and the force of the reasoning of the apostle is-If the dead rise not at all, what shall they do who are baptized in the room, to supply the place of those who, for the name of Jesus, had suffered death? what can be their hope, if there be no life beyond the present? What folly, to take upon them,
by baptism, the name of Christians, and thus to expose themselves to that vengeful persecution which drinks the blood of the saints! What shall they do, who with so much courage and zeal advance in baptism to fill up the places of those who have fallen in defence of the cross of their Saviour, if the dead rise not-if the hope of eternal glory, which has roused within them the spirit of martyrdom, be an illusion? What madness, to lose the life that now is, if there be no resurrection, if there be no life to come!
But this interpretation is liable to the objection of assigning a figurative meaning to a passage, for which, according to the rules of sound interpretation, we ought, in the first instance, to endeavour to find a literal interpretation. It is only in a figurative sense that any persons can be said to be baptized in the room of those who were dead.
The same objection of assigning a figurative, where we ought to seek, in the first instance, a literal signification, applies to another interpretation of this passage, by that eminently candid and judicious commentator, Macknight :
It is supposed that the expression "for the dead" is elliptical; and that the phrase, when the words which are understood are supplied, would be, "for the resurrection of the dead."-(So far the interpretation seems to be correct.)-This elliptical mode of expression is common in all writers, and particularly in writers who, like St. Paul, are distinguished for strength and conciseness. In a verse of this chapter, a very few verses before the one in which the phrase occurs which we are considering, there is an instance of this elliptical mode of expression. "Fallen asleep in Christ," means, VOL. II.