Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
~ Isaiah 53:1
Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
~ Acts 4:2
Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
~ Acts 10:40-42
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
~ Acts 17:31-32
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
~ Matthew 22:29-32
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
~ John 5:28-29
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
The Resurrection Credible, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 1872. The following contains an excerpt from his sermon.
“Why should it he thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead”?— Acts xxvi. 8.
CONCERNING the souls of our believing friends who have departed this life we suffer no distress, we feel sure that they are where Jesus is, and behold his glory, according to our Lord’s own memorable prayer. We know but very little of the disembodied state, but we know quite enough to rest certain beyond all doubt that—
“They are supremely blest,
Have done with sin, and care, and woe,
And with their Saviour rest.”
Our main trouble is about their bodies, which we have committed to the dark and lonesome grave. We cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that their dear faces are being stripped of all their beauty by the fingers of decay, and that all the insignia of their manhood should be fading into corruption. It seems hard that the hands and feet, and all the goodly fabric of their noble forms, should be dissolved into dust, and broken into an utter ruin. We cannot stand at the grave without tears; even the perfect Man could not restrain his weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. It is a sorrowful thought that our friends are dead, nor can we ever regard the grave with love. We cannot say that we take pleasure in the catacomb and the vault. We still regret, and feel it natural to do so, that so dreadful a ban has fallen upon our race as that it should be “appointed unto all men once to die.” God sent it as a penalty, and we cannot rejoice in it.
The glorious doctrine of the resurrection is intended to take away this cause of sorrow. We need have no trouble about the body, any more than we have concerning the soul Faith being exercised upon immortality relieves us of all trembling as to the spirits of the just; and the same faith, if exercised upon resurrection, will with equal certainty efface all hopeless grief with regard to the body; for, though apparently destroyed, the body will live again— it has not gone to annihilation. That very frame which we lay in the dust shall but sleep there for a while, and, at the trump of the archangel, it shall awaken in superior beauty, clothed with attributes unknown to it while here. The Lord’s love to his people is a love towards their entire manhood, he chose them not as disembodied spirits, but as men and women arrayed in flesh and blood. The love of Jesus Christ towards his chosen is not an affection for their better nature merely, but towards that also which we are wont to think their inferior part; for in his book all their members were written, he keepeth all their bones, and the very hairs of their head are all numbered. Did he not assume our perfect manhood? He took into union with his Deity a human soul, but he also assumed a human body; and in that fact he gave us evidence of his affinity to our perfect manhood, to our flesh, and to our blood, as well as to our mind and to our spirit. Moreover, our Redeemer has perfectly ransomed both soul and body. It was not partial redemption which our kinsman effected for us. We know that our Redeemer liveth, not only with respect to our spirit, but with regard to our body; so that though the worm shall devour its skin and flesh, yet shall it rise again because he has redeemed it from the power of death, and ransomed it from the prison of the grave.
The whole manhood of the Christian has already been sanctified. It is not merely that with his spirit he serves his God, but he yields his members to be instruments unto righteousness to the glory of his heavenly father. “Know ye not,” says the apostle, “that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost,” surely that which has been a temple of the Holy Ghost shall not be ultimately destroyed. It may be taken down, as the tabernacle was in the wilderness, but taken down to be put up again: or, to use another form of the same figure, the tabernacle may go, but only that the temple may follow. “We know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” My brethren, it would not be a complete victory over sin and Satan, if the Saviour left a part of his people in the grave; it would not look as if he had destroyed all the works of the devil if he only emancipated their spirits. There shall not be a bone, nor a piece of a bone, of any one of Christ’s people left in the charnel house at the last. Death shall not have a solitary trophy to show: his prison-house shall be utterly rifled of all the spoil which he has gathered from our humanity. The Lord Jesus in all things shall have the pre-eminence, and even as to our materialism he shall vanquish death and the grave, leading our captivity captive. It is a joy to think that, as Christ has redeemed the entire man, and sanctified the entire man, and will be honoured in the salvation of the entire man, so our complete manhood shall have it in its power to glorify him. The hands with which we sinned shall be lifted in eternal adoration; the eyes which have gazed on evil shall behold the King in his beauty. Not merely shall the mind which now loves the Lord be perpetually knit to him, and the spirit which contemplates him will delight for ever in him, and be in communion with him ; but this very body which has been a clog and hindrance to the spirit, and been an arch rebel against the sovereignty of Christ, shall yield him homage with voice, and hand, and brain, and ear, and eye. We look to the time of resurrection for the accomplishment of our adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.
Now, this being our hope, though we believe and rejoice in it in a measure, we have, nevertheless, to confess that, sometimes, questions suggest themselves, and the evil heart of unbelief cries, “Can it be true? Is it possible?” At such times the question of our text is exceedingly needful, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead”?
This morning, I shall first ask you, dear brethren, to look the difficulty in the face; and, then, secondly, we will endeavour to remove the difficulty,— there is but one way of doing so, and that a very simple one; and then, thirdly, we shall have a word or two say to about our relation to this truth.
I. First, then, LET US LOOK THIS DIFFICULTY IN THE FACE.
We shall not, for a moment, flinch from the boldest and most plain assertion of our belief in the resurrection, but will let its difficulties appear upon the surface. Attempts have been made at different times by misguided Christians, to tone down or explain away the doctrine of the resurrection and kindred truths, in order to make them more acceptable to sceptical or philosophical minds, but this has never succeeded. No man has ever been convinced of a truth by discovering that those who profess to believe it are half ashamed of it, and adopt the tone of apology. How can a man be convinced by one who does not himself believe, for that, in plain English, is what it comes to. When we modify, qualify, and attenuate our doctrinal statements, we make concessions which will never be reciprocated, and are only received as admissions that we do not believe ourselves what we assert. By this cutting and trimming policy we shear away the locks of our strength, and break our own arm. Nothing of that kind affects me, either now or any time.
We do then really in very truth believe that the very body which is put into the grave will rise again, and we mean this literally, and as we utter it. We are not using the language of metaphor, or talking of a myth; we believe that, in actual fact, the bodies of the dead will rise again from the tomb. We admit, and rejoice in the fact, that there will be a great change in the body of the righteous man; that its materialism will have lost all the grossness and tendency to corruption which now surrounds it; that it will be adapted for higher purposes; for, whereas, it is now only a tenement fit for the soul or the lower intellectual faculties, it will then be adapted for the spirit or the higher part of our nature: we rejoice that though sown in weakness it will be raised in power; though sown in dishonour it will be raised in glory; but we nevertheless know that it will be the same body. The self-same body which is put into the grave shall rise again; there shall be an absolute identity between the body in which we die and the body in which we rise again from the dust.
But, let it be remembered that identity is not the same thing as absolute sameness of substance and continuance of atoms. We do not mention this qualification at all by way of taking off the edge from our statement, but simply because it is true. We are conscious, as a matter of fact, that we are living in the same bodies which we possessed twenty years ago; yet we are told, and we have no reason to doubt it, that perhaps not one single particle of the matter which constitutes our body now was in it twenty years ago. The changes our physical forms have undergone from infancy to manhood are very great, yet have we the same bodies. Admit the like identity in the resurrection, and it is all we ask. The body in which we die will be the same body in which we were born,— everybody admits that, though it is certainly not the same as in all its particles; nay, every particle may have been exchanged, and yet it will remain the same. So the body in which we rise will be the same body in which we die; it will be greatly changed, but those changes will not be such as to affect its identity. Now, instead of mentioning this statement in order to make the doctrine appear more easy of belief, I assure you that if I saw it taught in Scripture that every single fragment of bone, flesh, muscle, and sinew which we put into the ground would rise again, I should believe it with the same ease as I now accept the doctrine of the identity of the body in the manner just stated. We are not at all wishful to make our beliefs appear philosophical or probable: far from it! We do not ask that men should say, “That can be supported by science.” Let the scientific men keep to their own sphere, and we will keep to ours. The doctrine we teach neither assails human science, nor fears it, nor flatters it, nor asks its aid. We go on quite another ground when we use the words of the passage, and say, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?” We look for a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. The literal rising again of the human body is our firm belief.
Now this hope is naturally surrounded with many difficulties, because, first of all, in the great mass of the dead decay has taken place. The large majority of dead bodies have rotted and been utterly dissolved, and the larger proportion of all other bodies will probably follow them. When we see bodies that have been petrified, or mummies which have been embalmed, we think that if all bodies were preserved in that way it were easier to believe in their restoration to life; but when we break open some ancient sarcophagus, and find nothing there but a little impalpable brown powder, when we open a grave in the church-yard and find only a few crambled pieces of bone, and when we think of ancient battle-fields where thousands have fallen, where, notwithstanding, through the lapse of years there remains not a trace of man, since the bones have so completely melted back into earth, and in some cases have been sucked up by the roots and plants, and have passed into other organisations, it certainly does seem a thing incredible that the dead should be raised. Moreover, corpses have been destroyed by quicklime, burned, devoured of beasts, and even eaten by men— how shall these arise? Think how widely diffused are the atoms which once built up living forms. Who knoweth where the atoms may now be which once composed Cyrus, Hannibal, Scipio, or Caesar? Particles once wedded through a man’s life may now be scattered wide as the poles asunder, one atom may be blowing across Sahara and another may be floating in the Pacific. Who knows amidst the revolutions of the elements of this globe where the essential constituents of any one body may be at this time? Where is the body of Paul, of Festus, who sent him to Rome, or of the emperor who condemned him to die? Who can even guess an answer? What wonder, then, if it seem an incredible thing that all men should rise again.
The difficulty increases when we come to reflect that the doctrine of the resurrection teaches that all men will rise again, not a certain portion of the race, not a few thousand persons, but all men. It might be easier to believe in an Elijah, who should raise a dead man occasionally, or in a Christ who should call back to life a young man at the gates of Nain, or raise a Lazarus, or say, “Talitha cumi” to a little deceased girl; but hard for reason is the doctrine that all shall rise, the myriads before the flood, the multitudes of Nineveh and Babylon, the hosts of Persia, and of Media, the millions that followed at the feet of Xerxes, the hosts which marched with Alexander, and all the innumerable millions that fell beneath the Roman sword. Think of the myriads who have passed away in countries like China, swarming with men, and conceive of these throughout six thousand years fattening the soil. Remember those who have perished by shipwreck, plague, earthquake, and, worst of all by bloodshed and war; and remember that all these will rise without exception: not one of woman born shall sleep on for ever, but all the bodies that ever breathed and walked this earth shall live again. “O monstrous miracle,” saith one, “it wears the aspect of a thing incedible.” Well, we shall not dispute the statement, but give even yet more reason for it.
The wonder increases when we remember in what strange places many of these bodies now may be. For the bodies of some have been left in deep mines where they will never be reached again; they have been carried by the wash and swell of tides into deep caverns of the ancient main; there they lie, far away on the pathless desert where only the vulture’s eye can see them, or buried beneath mountains of fallen rock. In fact, where are not man’s remains? Who shall point out a spot of earth where the crumbling dust of Adam’s sons is not? Blows there a single summer wind down our streets without whirling along particles of what once was man? Is there a single wave that breaks upon any shore which holds not in solution some relic of what was once human? They lie beneath each tree, they enrich the fields, they pollute the brooks, they hide beneath the meadow grass; yet surely from anywhere, from everywhere, the scattered bodies shall return, like Israel from captivity. As certainly as God is God, our dead men shall live, and stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
And, moreover, to make the wonder extraordinary beyond conception, they will rise at once, or perhaps in two great divisions. There is a passage (Rev. xx. 5, 6,) which apparently teaches us that between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked there will be an interval of a thousand years. Many think that the passage intends a spiritual resurrection, but I am unable to think so; assuredly the words must have a literal meaning. Hear them and judge for yourselves. “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” Yet, granted that there may be this great interval, yet what a mass will be seen when the righteous rise, a “multitude that no man can number”; an inconceivable company only known to God’s enumeration shall suddenly start up from “beds of dust and silent clay.” The break of a thousand years shall be as nothing in the sight of God, and shall soon be over, and then shall rise the unjust also. What teeming multitudes! where shall they stand? What plains of earth shall hold them? Shall they nob cover all the solid earth even to the mountain-tops? Shall they not need to use the sea itself as a level floor for God’s great assize? Before God in a moment shall they stand when the trump of the archangel shall ring out clear and shrill the summons for the last assize! No years shall be needed in order that in God’s great workshop bone shall be fitted to its bone, and the wondrous mechanism be refitted; a moment shall suffice to rebuild the ruins of centuries. Curiously wrought as our bodies were at first in the lowest parts of the earth, their restoration from the dead shall be effected in the twinkling of an eye. Man needs time, but God is the creator of time and needs it not. Ages of ages are no more to him than moments, in an instant his greatest marvels are accomplished. Matchless marvel! We marvel not, that to many it seems a thing incredible that God should raise the dead.
And then, bethink you, that this resurrection will not be a mere restoration of what was there, but the resurrection in the case of the saints will involve a remarkable advance upon anything we now observe. We put into the ground a bulb, and it rises as a golden lily; we drop into the mould a seed, and it comes forth an exquisite flower, resplendent with brilliant colours;— these are the same which we put into the earth, the same identically, but oh, how different; even thus, the bodies, which are sown in burial, are so many seeds, and they shall spring up by divine power into outgrowths, surpassing all imagination in beauty. This increases the wonder, for the Lord Jesus not only snatches the prey from between the teeth of the destroyer, but that which had become worm’s meat, ashes, dust, he raises in his own sacred image. It is as though a tattered and moth-eaten garment were rent to shreds, and then by a divine word restored to its perfectness, and in addition made whiter than any fuller on earth could make it, and adorned with costly fringes and embroideries unknown to it before, and all this in a moment of time. Let it stand as a world of wonders, marvellous beyond all things: we will not, for a moment, attempt to explain it away, or pare down the angles of the truth.
One of the difficulties of believing it is this, that there are positively no full analogies in nature by which to support it. There are phenomena around us somewhat like it so that we can compare, but I believe that there is no analogy in nature upon which it would be at all fair to found an argument. For instance, some have said that sleep is the analogy of death, and that our awaking is a sort of resurrection. The figure is admirable, but the analogy is very far from perfect, since in sleep there is still life. A continuance of life is manifest to the man himself in his dreams, and to all onlookers who choose to watch the sleeper, to hear him breathe, or to watch his heart beat. But in death the body has no pulses or other signs of life left in it; it does not even remain entire as the body of the sleeper does. Imagine that the slumberer should be torn limb from limb, pounded in a mortar, and reduced to powder, and that powder mixed up with clay and mould, and then see him awaken at your call, and you would have something worth calling an analogy; but a mere sleep from which a man is startled, while it is an excellent comparison, is far enough from being the counterpart or prophecy of resurrection. More frequently we hear mentioned the development of insects as a striking analogy. The larva is man in his present condition, the chrysalis is a type of man in his death, and the imago or perfect insect is the representation of man in his resurrection. An admirable simile, certainly, but no more, for there is life in the chrysalis; there is organisation, there is, in fact, the entire fly. No observer can mistake the chrysalis for a dead thing; take it up and you shall find everything in it that will come out of it; the perfect creature is evidently dormant there. If you could crush the chrysalis, dry up all its life juices, bruise it into dust, pass it through chemical processes, utterly dissolve it, and then afterwards call it back into a butterfly, you would have seen an analogy of the resurrection; but this is unknown to nature as yet. I find no fault with the picture, it is most instructive and interesting; but to argue from it would be childish to the last degree. Nor is the analogy of the seed much more conclusive. The seed when put into the ground dies, and yet rises again in due season, hence the apostle uses it as the apt type and emblem of death. He tells us that the seed is not quickened except it die. What is death? Death is the resolution of an organisation into its original particles, and so the seed begins to separate into its elements, to fall back from the organisation of life into the inorganic state; but still a life germ always remains, and the crumbling organisation becomes its food from which it builds itself up again. Is it so with dead bodies, of which not even a trace remains? Who shall discover a life germ in the putrid corpse? I shall not say there may not be some essential nucleus which better instructed beings might perceive, but I would demand where in the corrupted body it can be supposed to dwell. Is it in the brain? The brain is among the first things to disappear. The skull is empty and void. Is it in the heart? That also has a very brief duration, far briefer than the bones. Nowhere could a microscope discover any vital principle in bodies disinterred from the sod. Turn up the soil wherein the seed is buried, at anytime you will, and you will find it where you placed it, if indeed it will ever rise from the ground; but such is not the case with the man who has been buried a few hundred years; of him the last relic has probably passed beyond all recognition. The generations to come are not more undiscoverable than those which have gone. Think of those who were buried before the flood, or drowned in that general deluge, where, I ask, have we the smallest remnant of them? Grind your corn of wheat to fine flour, and throw it to the winds, and behold corn fields rising from it, and then you will have a perfect analogy; but as yet I do not think that nature contains a parallel case. The resurrection stands alone; and, concerning it the Lord might well say, “Behold, I do a new thing in the earth.” With the exception of the resurrection of our Lord, and those granted to a few persons by miracle, we have nothing in history that can be brought to bear upon the point; nor need we look there for evidence, we have a far surer ground to go upon. Here, then, is the difficulty, and a notable one it is. Can these dry bones live? Is it a credible thing that the dead should be raised?