A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, April 20, 1862, By Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of those who slept. (1Co 15:20)
1. The fact of Christ’s resurrection is exceedingly well attested. It was needful that it should be beyond dispute, since it lies at the very basis of our holy faith; it is consoling to think that it is so; for thus our foundation stands most secure. Our Lord was careful to show himself after his resurrection to those who, having known him before his decease, would be able to testify to the identity of his person. Had he merely showed himself to strangers who had not known him before, they might have been able to say that they had seen such a one, but they could not have affirmed that he was the very same person who had been buried; but showing himself to men like Thomas, and bidding them put their fingers into the print of the nails and thrust their hand into his side, he gave to men the most absolute proofs of his resurrection, and received from the most competent witnesses the most assured evidence that no deception had been practised. “Handle me, and see that it is I myself,” was a challenge of identity all the more conclusive because it was addressed to the men who had known him intimately during the whole period of his ministry. The witnesses were men who had nothing to gain by giving their evidence, but everything to lose; they were unlearned men, utterly unfitted to found or promulgate a fraud, and their evidence was so clearly borne out by the absence of the body of Christ from the tomb that it was found necessary to invent an impossible story in order to account for that absence. The eye witnesses were just the right men, such as prudence would select if we had now to hand down such a transaction to future faith and history. Our Lord, to put the matter beyond controversy, took care to appear many times, and to numerous companies. Our apostle gives a summary of those appearances which had most fully come under his own notice. “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve: after that, he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James; then by all the apostles. And last of all he was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (1Co 15:5-8) From the evangelistic reports we are led to believe that Christ appeared no less than twelve times to his disciples; for some of these instances which the apostle Paul mentions under one point, may include two or three appearances; as, for instance, “then by the twelve” may denote his two visits to the apostles; for you remember he first appeared to them when Thomas was absent, and afterwards when Thomas was present. Isaac Ambrose gives a summary of these appearances to this effect. He showed himself to Mary Magdalene by herself, then to all the Marys, next to Simon Peter alone, afterwards to the two disciples journeying to Emmaus; to the ten apostles when the doors were shut; to all the disciples when Thomas was with them; to Peter, John, and others while fishing on the lake of Tiberias; to five hundred brethren at once; to James, the Lord’s brother; to the eleven disciples in Galilee; to all the apostles and disciples at Olivet before his ascension; and lastly to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. There may even have been more than these, for we have no proof that all his appearances are on record. However, we have more than enough, and more would serve no useful purpose.
2. So clear is the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, that when Gilbert West—a famous infidel—selected this subject as the point of attack, sitting down to weigh the evidence and to digest the whole matter, although filled with prejudice, he was so startled with the abundant witness to the truth of this fact, that he himself became a convert, and has left as a heritage for coming generations a most valuable treatise, entitled “Observations on the Resurrection of Christ.” He laid down certain laws of evidence to begin with, and then went about the matter as though he had been a lawyer examining the pros and cons of any matter in dispute; and this, which is the fundamental doctrine of our faith, seemed to him so exceedingly clear that he renounced his unbelief, and became a professor of Christianity.
3. Does it not strike you that very many events of the greatest importance recorded in history, and commonly believed, could not in the nature of things have been witnessed by one tenth as many as the resurrection of Christ? The signing of famous treaties affecting nations—the births of princes—the remarks of cabinet ministers—the projects of conspirators—and the deeds of assassins—any and all of these have been made turning points in history, and are never questioned as facts, and yet only a few could have been present to witness them. I venture to assert that even the most recent political event, which has caused so much sorrow to our whole nation—the death of the lamented Prince Albert—had not nearly so many witnesses as the resurrection of Christ; that if it came to a matter of dispute, it would be far easier to prove that Christ is risen, than to prove that the Prince is dead; if it came to the counting of the witnesses who saw the Prince die, and could attest to the identity of the body now resting in the royal vault with whom they saw fever stricken in the bedroom, it strikes me they would turn out to be far fewer than those who saw the Lord after he had arisen, and were persuaded that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, and had burst the bonds of death. If this fact is to be denied, there is an end to all witness, and we have said deliberately what David said in haste: “All men are liars;” and from this day forth every man must become so sceptical of his neighbour, that he will never believe anything which he himself has not seen; the next step will be to doubt the evidence of his own senses; to what further follies men may then rush, I will not venture to predict. We believe that the very best attested fact in all history is the resurrection of Christ. Historical doubts concerning the existence of Napoleon Buonaparte, or the stabbing of Julius Caesar, or the Norman Conquest, would be quite as reasonable as doubts concerns the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. None of these matters have such witnesses as those who testify about him—witnesses who were obviously truthful, since they suffered for their testimony, and most of them died ignominious and painful deaths as the results of their belief. We have more and better evidence for this fact than for anything else which is written in history, either sacred or profane. Oh! how should we rejoice, we who hang our salvation wholly upon Christ, that beyond a doubt it is established that, “now Christ is risen from the dead.”
4. But you may ask the question at the outset, “Why is it that the resurrection of Christ is of so much importance?” We have said that the whole system of Christianity rests upon it; for “If Christ is not risen then is our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain; you are still in your sins.” (1Co 15:14, 17) The divinity of Christ finds its surest proof in his resurrection, since the apostle tells us in Romans that Christ was “Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Ro 1:4) It would not be unreasonable to doubt his deity if he had not risen. Moreover, Christ’s sovereignty also depends upon his resurrection for Scripture affirms: “To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, so that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Ro 14:9) Again, our justification, that choice blessing of the covenant, hangs upon Christ’s resurrection. “He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Ro 4:25) Indeed, more, our very regeneration depends upon his resurrection, for Peter, speaking by the Holy Spirit, exclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1Pe 1:3) And most certainly our ultimate resurrection rests here; for “If the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead, dwells in you, he who raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that who in you.” (Ro 8:11) If Christ is not risen, then we shall not rise; but if he is risen, then those who are asleep in Christ, have not perished, but in their flesh shall surely see their God. It would not be difficult to enlarge this catalogue. The fact is, that the silver thread of resurrection runs through all the blessings, from regeneration onward to our eternal glory, and binds them together.
5. It is time to pass on, and come more fully to the text. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of those who slept.” Let me draw your attention, first of all, to the pictures here given of the death of the saints. Further, we shall observe the singular relationship which exists between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of the saints; and before we leave the subject, we shall suggest certain practical considerations arising from the doctrine before us.
A View of Death
6. I. First of all, then, THE TEXT GIVES A VIEW OF DEATH VERY COMMOM IN SCRIPTURE, BUT NOT SUFFICIENTLY ACCEPTED AMONG US.
7. The representations of the text, I take it, are twofold. Death is here compared to a sleep—“The firstfruits of those who slept;” but moreover, you will plainly perceive it is compared also to a sowing; for Christ is pictured as being “the firstfruits.” Now, to have a harvest there must have been a sowing. If the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits, then the resurrection of the elect must be looked upon as a harvest, and death would therefore be symbolized by a sowing.
Death as a Sleep
8. 1. First, then, we have before us the picture so commonly employed in Scripture of death as a sleep. We must not make a mistake by imagining that the soul sleeps. Such a heresy was once received by a large number of people: it has long ago been rejected, as being inconsistent, as well with natural as with revealed religion. The soul undergoes no purgatorial purification or preparative slumber in the limbo of the fathers; beyond a doubt, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise,” is the whisper of Christ to every dying saint. They sleep in Jesus, but their souls do not sleep; they are before the throne of God, praising him day and night in his temple—singing hallelujahs to him who has washed them from their sins in his blood. It is the body that sleeps in its lonely bed of earth, beneath the coverlet of grass, with the cold clay for its pillow.
9. But what is this sleep? We all know that the surface idea connected with sleep is that of resting; that is doubtless just the thought which the Spirit of God would convey to us. The eyes of the sleeper ache no more with the glare of light or with the rush of tears; his ears are teased no more with the noise of strife or the murmur of suffering; his hand is no more weakened by long protracted effort and painful weariness; his feet are no more blistered with journeyings to and fro along a rugged road; there is rest for aching heads, and strained muscles, and overtaxed nerves, and loosened joints, and panting lungs, and heavy hearts, in the sweet repose of sleep. On yonder couch, however hard, the labourer shakes off his toil, the merchant his care, the thinker his difficulties, and the sufferer his pains. Sleep makes each night a Sabbath for the day. Sleep also shuts the door of the soul, and bids all intruders wait for awhile, so that the royal life within may enter into its summer garden of ease. From the sweat of his brow man is delivered by sleep, and the thorn and thistle of the curse cease to tear his flesh. So it is with the body while it sleeps in the tomb. The weary are at rest; the servant is as much at ease as his lord. The galley slave no more tugs the oar, the negro forgets the whip. The worker leans no more on his spade, the thinker no more props up his pensive head. The wheel stands still, the shuttle is not in motion, the hand which turned the one and the fingers which threw the other are quiet also. The body and all its members find the tomb a couch of sufficient length and breadth. The coffin shuts out all disturbance, labour, or effort. The toil worn believer quietly sleeps, as does the child weary with its play, when he shuts his eyes and slumbers on his mother’s breast. Oh! happy are they who die in the Lord; they rest from their labours, and their works follow them. We would not shun toil, for although it is in itself a curse, when it is sanctified, it is a blessing; yet toil for toil’s sake we would not choose, and when God’s work is done we are too glad to think that our work is done too. The mighty Husbandman, when we have fulfilled our day, shall bid his servants rest upon the best of beds, for the clods of the valley shall be sweet to them. Their repose shall never be broken until he shall rouse them up to give them their full reward. Guarded by angel watchers, curtained by eternal mysteries, resting on the lap of mother earth, you shall sleep on, you inheritors of glory, until the fulness of time shall bring you the fulness of redemption.
10. Moreover, we look upon sleep as a time of forgetfulness, and in this too it mirrors death. “Their memory and their love are lost;” they are “alike unknowing and unknown.” Their sons come to honour, and they do not know it; or their seed degenerates, but it causes them no grief. Let armies march over their tombs—their tramp shall disturb them no more than the crawling of a worm; let the vault of heaven blaze with the flaming bolts of God, let the earth shake at the awful voice of the thunder, let the cedars be broken, let the rocks be shattered, let the sea and its fulness roar; there, under their green hillocks they slumber as peacefully as though it was a soft summer evening when the hum of a bee or the flitting of a fly were the only sounds. The dead may be remembered by their kinsfolk; but they do not remember. They have forgotten the joys and the sorrows, the peace and the strife, the defeats and the victories of time. The soul does not forget, and we have no reason to believe that the glorified are ignorant of what is going on below. We have far more presumptive evidence that they “know even as they are known”—that they still have communion with the living Church on earth, and that the Church victorious is not separated from the Church militant in point of knowledge; but as for their bodies, what do their bodies know? What does the human organism now understand? Take up the skull; see if there is memory there. Look at the place where the heart once was, and see if there is any trace of present emotion. Gather into your hands the bones; see if they are still obedient to muscles which could be moved at will as passing events might affect the mind. Try to discover any live coals amid your heap of ashes, a heart still quivering with delight, or an eye moistened by a sorrow. These dry bones are forgetful indeed; steeped in lethe1 these decayed skeletons know nothing.
11. But yet once more: sleep has its intent and purpose. We do not close our eyes aimlessly and open them again without benefit. The old cauldron of Medea has its full meaning in sleep. In the old tradition we read of Medea the enchantress casting the limbs of old men into her cauldron so that they might come forth young again. Sleep does all this in its fashion. We are old enough often, after hours of thinking and of labour, but we sleep, and we awake refreshed, as though we were beginning a new life. The sun begins a new day when it rises from the eastern sea; and we begin a new life of renewed vigour when we rise from the couch of quiet rest.
Tir’d nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep.
Now, such is the effect of the body’s visit to its grave. The righteous are put into their graves all weary and worn; but they will not rise like that. They go there with the furrowed brow, the hollowed cheek, the wrinkled skin; they shall wake up in beauty and glory. The old man totters there, leaning on his staff; the palsied comes there, trembling all the way; the halt, the lame, the withered, the blind, journey in doleful pilgrimage to the common dormitory, but they shall not rise decrepit, deformed, or diseased, but strong, vigorous, active, glorious, immortal. The shrivelled seed, so destitute of form and comeliness, shall arise from the dust a beautiful flower. A green blade all fresh and young shall spring up where before there was the dried decayed grain. Well said the holy martyrs, when their limbs were being torn away,—“We cheerfully resign these members to the God who gave them to us.” Our members are not ours to hold or lose, no torment can rob us of them in reality; for when we wake up in Christ’s likeness it will not be as halt or lame, but full of strength and vigour, more comely than earthly sons of men. The winter of the grave shall soon give way to the spring of resurrection and the summer of glory. Blessed is death, since it answers all the ends of medicine to this mortal frame, and through the divine power disrobes us of the leprous rags of flesh, to clothe us with the wedding garment of incorruption.
12. One reflection must not escape our notice—this is not a dreamy slumber. The sleep of some men is much more wearying than refreshing. Unbidden thoughts steal away the couch from under them and throw them on the rack. The involuntary action of the mind prevents us at times from taking rest in sleep. But not so with the dear departed. No dreams can come in that sleep of death; nor do they feel a terror in undressing for that last bed, for no phantoms, visions, or terrors by night shall vex their peace. Their bodies rest in the profoundest slumber. It is sleep indeed, such as the Lord gives, for “So he gives his beloved sleep.”
13. Nor ought we ever to look upon it as a hopeless sleep. We have seen people sleep who have been long emaciated by sickness, when we have said, “That eye will never open again; he will sleep himself from time into eternity;” we have felt that the sleep was the prelude of the eternal slumber, and might probably melt into it. But it is not so here. They sleep a healthy sleep—not thrown over them by death bearing drugs, nor foul disease, they sleep to awaken, and not to die the second death. They sleep to awaken—to wake up in joyous fellowship, when the Redeemer stands in the latter day upon the earth. Sleep on, then, you servants of the Lord, for if you sleep, you shall do well; indeed, concerning these departed ones we may well speak of taking rest in sleep.
14. Dear friends, ought not this view of death as a sleep prevent our looking upon it in so repulsive a light? I know we do not like to look at dead bodies; we are afraid to touch them; some foolish people do not like to remain in the same house with a corpse, at least alone, or at night. There is a certain horror connected with the ruins of our earthly house. Did you ever feel horror at a sleeping child? Do you feel any sort of dread of your sleeping mother, or your slumbering husband or wife? Have you felt it to be anything dreadful to draw back the curtain of the little cot and to gaze upon the sweet young face when the eyes are closed in happy sleep? Oh, why, then, should you think it is dreadful to look upon the sleeping believer’s brow? Truly, there are marks of decay which are not pleasant to nature; but are they not the footprints of the retreating enemy and signs that the corruptible is passing away to make room for incorruption? Do not those very marks which mar the form betoken that the ragged smoke blacked tent of Kedar is being pulled down so that the curtains of Solomon may glitter in their place, and so that the soul may dwell there as in a fair pavilion? Oh, do not look upon the departed as though they were dead, but speak of them as Christ did of his friend—“Our friend Lazarus sleeps;” let the ears of your faith hear the Master say, “And I come that I may awaken him out of his sleep.” Do not let the grave seem more abhorrent to you than your bedroom.
15. Let there be by no means such a view of the death of the redeemed as to wish them back again. Would you wish, when your friend has long been in excruciating pain, and at last falls into sleep, to shake him in his bed, to awaken him, to tell him some idle tale? No; you have been watching for hours, and you have said, “Oh, that he could have a little sleep! Physician! can you not give some sleep to this poor tortured frame?” And at last you have said, “Thank God, his eyelids drop; speak softly; tread lightly; he sleeps!” And you have been afraid even to let your foot fall upon the ground, lest you should break the sleep. And what! after all the pain, the suffering, the temptation, and the trial of your friends, do you wish to awaken them? Rather I think you say, “I charge you, oh you daughters of Jerusalem, that you do not ask that he should be stirred up or awakened until Jesus pleases; let him sleep on while the night lasts; and then, at the trump of the archangel and the voice of God, he shall wake up in the morning when the sun has risen upon the earth.”
Death as a Sowing
16. 2. The text affords us, however, a second metaphor. Death is compared to a sowing. The black mould has been ploughed; certain dry looking seeds are put into a basket, and the farmer takes his walk, and with both hands he scatters right and left, broadcast, his handfuls of seeds. Where have they gone? They have fallen into the crevices of the earth; the soil will soon be raked over them, and they will disappear. So it is with us. Our bodies here are like those dry grains of wheat. There is nothing very comely in a grain of wheat, nor yet in our bodies. Indeed, Paul calls them “these vile bodies.” Death comes: we call him a reaper—notice that I call him a sower—and he takes these bodies of ours, and sows us broadcast in the ground. Go to the cemetery, and see his fields; notice how thickly he has sown his furrows! how closely he has drilled the rows! what narrow headlands he has left! We say, they are there buried; I say, they are sown. They are dead, we say; no, say I, they are put into the earth—but they shall not remain there for ever. In some sense these holy bodies of the just are dead; “For what you sow is not quickened unless it dies,” but it is not a death to death, but rather a death leading to life. That mouldering body is no more dead than that decaying seed which you have just now disturbed in its bed of earth, it shall soon spring up again and you shall see a harvest. We do lose sight, it is true, of those who have gone from us, for there must be a burial, or how else can the seed grow? Truly it is never a pleasant sound, that rattle of the clay upon the coffin lid, “Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes,” nor to the farmer, for its own sake, would it be a very pleasant thing to put his grain into the dull cold earth; yet I do not think any farmer ever weeps when he sows his seed. We have not heard the farmer groan and sigh when they scatter their baskets of seed grain; rather, we have heard them cheerfully singing the song of mirth, and have heard them anticipate the reaper’s joy, when they have trodden the furrows. Have you seen them robed in black, or wearing the dull weeds of mourning, while they tread the brown ridges of the fertile earth? We grant you that in itself considered, it would be no wise or glad thing to bury precious grain amid dead clods of earth, but viewed in the light of harvest, since there must be a burial, and after the burial a rottenness and a decay, both of these lose all traces of sorrow, and become prophets of joy. The body must become worms’ meat; it must crumble back to its former elements, for “dust you are, and to dust shall you return,” but this is no more our sorrow, for “In Christ all shall be made alive.”
17. Nor will we even mourn because of the stench and rottenness of death. The life germ in the grain of wheat must begin to feed on the food laid up in store for it; a kind of decay must seem to take place; but I do not know any farmer who ever weeps because the seed which he has put into the ground has swollen and lost its former size and shape. He does not mourn if he is told the seed he has put into the ground is undergoing the death that is necessary for its future growth, but he rejoices in patient hope. Why then, you worms, should you force me weep? and why, corruption, should you make me sigh? Rather I will call you my brothers and my mother, for your kindly glooms are only part of the road to immortality.
18. After sowing and decay comes a germination, and the farmer soon perceives, in a few short weeks, the little green blade, the son of the buried life. So it is with the dead. There is soon to come, and how soon we do not know—the germination; we shall thus perceive that they were not lost, but only committed to the grave, in readiness for “the redemption”—put there so that our souls might, when reunited, receive them in a better and nobler form.
19. Dear friends, if such is death—if it is only a sowing, let us be done with all faithless, hopeless, graceless sorrow. “The granary is empty,” says the farmer. Yes, but he does not sigh about it; for the seed is put into the ground, in order that the granary may be filled again. “Our family circle has been broken,” you say. Yes, but only broken so that it may be reformed. You have lost a dear friend: yes, but only lost that friend so that you may find him again, and find more than you lost. They are not lost; they are sown; and as “light is sown for the righteous,” so are the righteous sown for light. The stars are setting here to rise in other skies to set no more. We are quenched like torches only to be relit with all the brilliancy of the sun.
The Resurrection of Christ and That of Believers
20. II. We will not tarry longer on this point, but rapidly carry you to the second—that is, THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AND THAT OF BELIEVERS.
21. The text tells us that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who slept.” Some professors take very great delight in the hope that they may be “alive and remain” at the coming of Christ, and so may never die. I confess I greatly rejoice in the hope that Christ will come; but the prospect of never dying has no sort of charms for me, for I think those who never die lose a great privilege; at least, to our comprehension it seems so, for Christ is “the firstfruits of those who slept.” Oh, then, it is a blessed thing to sleep, so that Christ may be to us in the relationship of firstfruits. Those who never die can hardly know so much of fellowship with Christ in his death as those who fall asleep in Jesus. Whereas you and I, who feel the pin’s prick of the dart of death, will be able to say in eternity, “I too passed through the grave. He was with me passing through the valley of the shadow of death; I, in my own proper person, knew a death and a resurrection too, even as my Lord did, which you who never died can only understand by hearsay and report.” Oh! happy are those who die. Those who are alive and remain shall not precede them in any privilege or honour.
22. But what is meant by Christ being “the firstfruits?” You will remember that there was a feast of the Jews called the feast of firstfruits, when the first sheaf was brought out from the harvest as a token of the whole, and first of all heaved upward as a heave offering, and then waived to and fro as a wave offering, being thus dedicated to God in testimony of the gratitude of the owners of the land for the harvest which the Lord had given. Now, this happened on the first day of the week. You will remember that the Passover was celebrated first; then came a Sabbath day; then after that came the feast of firstfruits. So Christ died on the Passover day; he, as the slaughtered Lamb of God, of God’s Passover, died exactly at the Passover season; the next day was the Sabbatic rest: Christ’s body therefore rested in the grave; then, early in the morning of the first day, before it was yet light, while yet the sun was still rising upon the earth, Christ rose—on the morning of the feast of the firstfruits; and so he is revealed as the blessed wave sheaf preceding and consecrating the whole harvest.
23. But the uninstructed believer asks me to explain at greater length. Beloved, remember then, that Christ was the first who rose from the dead in order of time. You will mention to me Enoch and Elijah. We answer that they never died, but were translated so that they should not see death. You will remind me of the widow’s son who was raised by Elijah, and the young man restored by Elisha. Yes, but these are not cases in point. They were raised, but they died again. All the instances in the Old Testament are only temporary restorations, and so also those in the New. In no instance, except in that of Lazarus, were any of them buried at all, so that none of them came out of their graves; and even in the case of Lazarus, he lived only to die; he had a furlough from the tomb; but at the expiration of the due time, his body was yielded to the appointed keeper. Christ was the first who really rose to die no more. He leads the vanguard through the dark defile, and his brow first greets the light of the plains of heaven beyond the gloom. Men admire the man who is first to discover a new country; the name of Columbus shall ring in the ears of the ages, because he first crossed the stormy sea to win another world; the name of the man who climbed the mountains, and first saw the broad Pacific with exceedingly great joy, is well remembered. Oh, then, sing it in songs, sound it with voice of trumpet to the ends of the earth,—Christ is the first who returned from the jaws of death to speak of immortality and light.
24. He is also first in point of cause; for as he comes back from the grave he brings all his followers behind him in one glorious train. We read of Hercules in the old mythology descending into Hades and bringing up his friend. Truly, Christ went there, and he gave no sop to Cerberus,2 but cut off his head. Like a sun he suddenly flashed upon the night of death and scattered its darkness. Like Samson in Gaza, he tore up the gates of death and carried away the bars of the grave. Like David, he delivered his flock out of the jaw of the lion, and took the monster by the beard and killed him. Like Abraham, he returned triumphantly from the slaughter of the kings. Like Moses, he led his Israel out of the house of bondage. With ten thousand times ten thousand he came forth with a high hand and an outstretched arm. Who is this who comes up from the land of darkness—from the gates of the grave? Who is this who drags captive behind him the grim prince of the realms of death shade? Who is this, so strong, so mighty, that adamantine walls give way before him, and gates of brass are broken in two? It is he! it is he! It is the very same conqueror who before came from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah. The victory on the cross is succeeded by a victory in the tomb. He who won heaven for earth when he died, wins heaven for the dead when he descends into the grave. Sound his praises; speak of his victories; let heaven itself take up the strain, he has “led captives captive,” rifled the grave, and robbed death of his sting. He is the death of death and hell’s destruction.
25. But then again, he in first in point of pledge. The firstfruits were a pledge of the harvest. “From where, oh farmer, from where has you brought that sheaf?” “I gathered it,” he says, “from the fields that are waving with plenty.” “Truly,” says the priest, “the harvest is plentiful this year, and full and many are the ears for this sheaf bears good witness.” From where, oh power divine, did you bring this glorious sheaf, this body of our Lord, so bright and glorious? From where did you bring it, oh Spirit of the Lord? Is there a harvest of many shocks of grain such as this? “Indeed, truly,” says the teacher; “this is only one among many, the firstborn among many brethren.” We know very well that there must be a glorious harvest of resurrection—forms and immortal bodies, since Jesus Christ, clothed in immortality and light, walks among the sons of men as the pledge of all the rest.
26. He was, again, the firstfruits, not only as a pledge, but as the representative of the whole. When the firstfruit sheaf had been waved before God, it was considered that all the harvest had been brought into the sanctuary; it was all dedicated, all consecrated, from that very hour. So when Christ rose as a heave offering from the sepulchre, and when he went among the people as a wave offering, moving among his disciples, he consecrated the whole harvest. All the righteous dead were virtually risen in him; all the chosen members of his body had a resurrection when their head appeared as “risen indeed;” and moreover, they were all dedicated and consecrated to God, by his dedication as the firstfruits to the Most High. Triumph, you children of God, triumph in this. You are risen in Christ today. We do not see the saints as yet ascended; rather, we see their bones dried in the valley, and we ask, “Can these dry bones live?” But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, and we know that he is risen, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and by faith we perceive that as our covenant head he has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places even in him, for he is the head over all things to his Church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. Never doubt, believer, about your resurrection, since the second Adam was loosened from the bands of the tomb.
The Influence of the Resurrection
27. III. And now, lastly, we will close by noticing THE INFLUENCE OF THE WHOLE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION AND CHRIST’S CONNECTION WITH IT UPON OUR OWN SPIRITS.
28. First, let us look well to the holiness of our bodies. “Do you not know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit? If any man defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him.” We do not believe in consecrated Churches; we think it is altogether absurd to talk about holy bricks and mortar; but we do know by scriptural authority that the body is holy—that the body of the saint is truly as holy as men pretend that Churches and temples may be. Now, brethren, if our eyes look upon vanity, we have defiled the windows of God’s house; if our tongues speak what is evil, have we not desecrated the gates of the temple of the Lord? Let us see to it that our feet carry us nowhere except where our Master can go with us, lest the pillars of our house become our destruction, like the pillars of the Philistine temple of old. Let us mind that our hands be outstretched for nothing except what is pure and lovely, lest like Belshazzar we profane the vessels of the Lord’s temple. Those who pamper the body, those who look to its adornment, those who regard its physical health more than its moral purity, forget the higher end of their being; for what is beauty after all? what is the comeliness which human skill can give? Do you see that skull? “Go, take that to my lady’s room, and tell her, although she paint herself an inch thick, she must come at last to that complexion.” And say to all who think so much of comeliness and goodliness,—“That deadly brown which worms and earth shall bring upon you, that is the natural complexion of man, and to that the fairest must be bronzed at last.” But there is another way of attending to your complexion, by seeing that your cheek never needs to be reddened with shame, and that your hands are never black with evil deeds, and that your flesh is not soiled by lasciviousness, or contact with what is evil. “Will you take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” says the apostle Paul, when he warns men to see to it that their bodies are chaste and pure. Do you not know that your very flesh, if you are Christians, has been bought with Christ’s blood, and that your very dust is precious in his sight? Mind you, oh mind you, that the slime of the serpent do not come here, and that you do not defile the members of your body, lest the Lord abhors you, and casts you out from his presence, as things he does not care for, being none of his.
29. Let us look at things in this light, and so by the Holy Spirit escape from sin. What! shall these eyes that are one day to “See the king in his beauty,” be delighted with vanity? Shall these lips that are to be tuned to melodious sonnets “sung by flaming tongues above,” talk about what is light and frivolous, and does not minister to edification? What! shall these fingers that are to strike the golden harps be given up to work unrighteousness with greediness? Indeed, since we are to be companions with the angels, and more glorious than they, and since these bodies are to be made like to Christ’s body, let us keep them pure, washed with clean water by his Spirit, renewed and preserved, so that we go not astray into sin.
30. But, secondly, another thought arises here. Are we among those for whom Christ thus stood as firstfruits? For Christ is to rise first, as the firstfruits, “afterwards those who are Christ’s, at his coming.” Then when do the wicked rise? There are two resurrections; and “blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection; on such the second death has no power.” When the Lord shall come from heaven, with the trump of the archangel and the voice of God, then the dead in Christ shall suddenly wake up from their sleep, and shall be offered to God as the great harvest, the great Pentecost, of which Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruits. What then shall become of the wicked? They shall continue rotting in their graves; the worm shall feed upon them; they shall be ashes beneath the feet of the saints; and while the righteous tread this earth, and on the scene of their conflict enjoy a thousand years of triumph; while Christ’s feet shall stand in the latter day upon Mount Olivet; while his people shall bow around him, and shall reign with him triumphantly over the creature that was once subject to vanity, beneath their feet shall be the dead bodies of their ungodly persecutors, and deep down in their graves those infamous kings and princes shall rot, and those careless crowds and nations who did not know Jehovah, and would not be obedient to his Son. They said, “Let us break his bands asunder; let us cast his cords from us.” And now where are they? “Death has dominion over them in the morning, and the righteous triumph over them, while they lie ignominiously like those who fall in battle, a portion for foxes.” But what then? When the splendours of the millennial age are over, then the end comes. The King shall ascend the judgment seat; he who came to reign with his people, shall suddenly, sitting upon his throne, bid his angel proclaim the last assize. Then unwillingly souls tormented in hell shall come back from Tophet to be reunited with their equally guilty bodies, and he who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell, shall say, “Gather them together in bundles to burn them.” He shall pronounce their sentence, “Depart, you cursed, into everlasting fire in hell, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Oh! that you and I may be among the harvest, and not the vintage. There are two ingatherings mentioned, you remember, in the Revelation. The harvest is the gathering in of the righteous; they are carefully housed in God’s barn. The vintage is the gathering of the wicked; they are cast into the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God, “and they are trodden underfoot until their blood runs forth up to the horses’ bridles.” Now, how am I to know whether I belong to that portion of which Christ is the firstfruits? Why, thus: if Christ rose for me, and if I rose in him, then I died in him. Oh! soul, do you believe that Christ died for you? Have you a part in his passion? Do you hope in his agonies? Do you rest on his cross? If so, he who died for you rose for you too, and you are a part of that holy lump of which Christ was the holy offering. Have you died with Christ yourself? Are you dead to the world? Do you hate the things that you once loved? Are you weaned from your old pleasures? Do you seek for something higher and better? Ah! then, if you have died with him, you are risen with him. Say now, do you desire to be one with Christ? For if you are one with him in heart, you shall be one with him in all his trophies and his glories. Do you say, “No, I do not care for Christ?” Soul! Soul! If you die in that state of mind you shall have no part in the first resurrection; but when the wicked rise, then you shall “Awaken to shame and everlasting contempt.” But, and if you say in your heart this morning, “I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead according to the Scriptures, and I put my sole and only trust in him; he is to me all my salvation, and all my desire,” go your way; you shall “stand in your lot at the end of the days;” you shall have your portion among those who are sanctified; you shall rejoice together with him, and sit down at his marriage banquet for ever.
31. May God add his own blessing, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.