I SHALL RISE AGAIN.
In the verses now to claim our thoughts, we have again
two antithetical clauses; or, repeating our figure, antiphonal strains.
"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead
is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to
your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore,
brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live
according to it." Romans 8:11-12
"The body is dead because of sin;"--"Shall also
quicken your mortal bodies." Other topics already touched upon, are
embraced in the passage. We shall therefore confine ourselves to these
contrasted words--answering chords--"dead" and "quicken." It is Death in
conjunction with Life--or rather with Life as its sequel and triumph. It
recalls the burial sentences so familiar to many, when standing by the
grave--"Man that is born of a woman has but a short time to live, and is
full of misery. He comes up and is cut down like a flower; he flees as it
were a shadow, and never continues in one stay. In the midst of life we are
in death." Followed by the inspiriting words--"In sure and certain hope of
the resurrection to eternal life…Our perfect consummation and bliss, both in
body and soul, in Your eternal everlasting glory."
Or there may be brought before the mental vision of some
of us, the impressive and never to be forgotten spectacle of a soldier's--a
Christian soldier's funeral. The procession slowly pacing the streets, amid
the wailing of the "Dead-march"--with the accompaniment of muffled
drum--"the body is dead." But when the concluding volley is
fired--the ordinary tribute borne by the brave to the brave; the dirge-notes
are merged into some jubilant strains, possibly dear to the departed as he
was passing through the last mortal strife.
The same antithesis as that of our present verses, often
occurs throughout Sacred Scripture--"The voice said, Cry; and he said, What
shall I cry? all flesh is grass, and all the goodness thereof is as the
flower of the field" (Isa. 40;6). The voice said Cry--"Verily, verily, I say
unto you, The hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of
the Son of God; and those who hear shall live" (John 5;25 ).
Let us briefly meditate on the two themes.
"The body is dead." Some have considered this
expression figurative or symbolic. It is in every respect more in harmony
with the Apostle's meaning and argument, to take it in its simple and
natural acceptation. His reference is to the dissolution of the mortal
framework (2 Cor. 5;1). Indeed any other interpretation we think is
inadmissible. The "body"--were we by that to understand "the flesh"--the
animal nature, is not thus "dead because of sin." Such would unsay and
contradict the repeated assertions of the seventh chapter--negative the
writer's humbling lamentations over his own dual experiences. Even when most
subdued, the fires of corruption and evil smoulder to the last; and death
alone puts the extinguisher upon them.
It is then, as may be strongly asserted, this human body
of flesh and blood, which sooner or later undergoes the doom of dissolution,
of which he speaks. And this, too, even though "Christ be in you" (v. 10).
There is no exemption from the universal law. Christianity and Paganism are
on the same footing here. It is the testimony of wide humanity, "We must
needs die." Believer and unbeliever--the children of light and the children
of darkness are served heirs alike to the "covenant with death."
And, "the body is dead because of sin." "Death has
passed over all men for that all have sinned!" It is sin which wrote
that primal sentence from which there is no appeal--involved in that warfare
from which there is no discharge--"Dust you are, and unto dust you shall
return." DEATH!--we dare not mock our deepest, holiest feelings by
attempting to soften your terrors. Death!--which so often, like an
avalanche, comes crashing down in the midst of summer skies and smiling
fields. You are indeed the great Destroyer--the disrupter of closest bonds,
the unsparing implacable foe of human happiness; leaving behind you weeping
eyes and broken hearts. If there were not other inspiring music, of which we
shall presently speak, there could be no "Song of Songs" to wake into life
and hope these hushed and gloomy corridors--nothing but unstrung harps. We
could only be mute in such bewildering moments, as we wail out the
dirge-notes of the insoluble mystery--"How is the strong staff broken, and
the beautiful rod!"--the severance, the void, the blank, the silence! In the
words of the Laureate--
"Our lives are put so far apart,
We cannot hear each other speak."
O Death, here IS your sting; O Grave, here
IS your victory!
But I willingly leave the shadows of this picture, and
pass to its glorious lights--from the sob in the darkness to the "Song in
(V. 11) "Shall also QUICKEN your mortal bodies."
It is the first introduction--the first faint warbling, in the inspired
Canticle, of the believer's future triumph--the first pencilled ray, which,
as the chapter closes, "breaks and broadens into glorious day."
"Our vile body" (lit., the body of our humiliation, Phil.
3;21), is to assume an incorruptible form--quickened from the dust of
mortality into everlasting life. "Life in Paul's writings," says Dean Howson,
"is scarcely represented adequately by 'Life.' It generally means more than
this, that is, Life triumphant over death." And let us note very specially
with what, in the mind of the Apostle, that quickening is associated. It is
with the Resurrection of the believer's Lord--"He that raised up Christ
from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies." Paul had
discoursed to the Athenians at Mars Hill, on "Jesus and the
Resurrection." He does so now with his Roman converts. He brings before
their minds that great Resurrection day, on which the buried Conqueror had
met His first followers with the "all hail" (Matt. 28;9); and when the glad
tidings were afterwards borne from lip to lip--"The Lord is risen!" This,
indeed, is the chief note of our Apostle's present Golden Song, and of all
the after Songs of Christendom, including the greatest uninspired Song of
the ages--"When you had overcome the sharpness of death, You did open the
Kingdom of Heaven to all believers." "If Christ be not risen," he elsewhere
affirms, "your faith is vain, and you are yet in your sins." "But now has
Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of those who slept"
(1 Cor. 15;17, 20). "It is a faithful saying. For if we be dead with Him, we
shall also live with Him" (2 Tim. 2;11).
Am I able to appropriate this transcendent truth, that in
a partial sense now, and in a full sense hereafter, I am sharer in the
Resurrection-life of my divine Redeemer? The great problem of all time has
been--"If a man die shall he live again?" Paganism with its elysium,
mingling with a dim land of shadows (Tartarus and Acheron)--gave a feeble,
trembling response, like,
"An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry."
The noblest intellect of the olden world says,
hypothetically--"If there be a life beyond?" Even Athens, with all her
boasted enlightenment, had one of her favorite altars in the Temple of
Minerva Polias dedicated to 'Oblivion'. Nature presents, in her great
parable-book, some significant guesses and types, but nothing more--of "the
secret hidden from ages and generations." In the upspringing of the seed
buried under the clods and snows of winter; or the bursting of the insect
from its cocoon prison-house, soaring to heaven on wings of purple and gold.
But all these oracles were unsatisfactory and ambiguous, until Christ came.
Rolling back the stone from the sepulcher of Golgotha, He proclaimed
Himself--"I am the Resurrection and the life;"--coupling with this a
guarantee for the life and resurrection of His people--"Because I live, you
shall live also." He, the first fruits, was presented before the Heavenly
Altar, the pledge of the vast harvest that was to follow--"Afterward those
who are Christ's at His coming." We need not wonder at the Apostle's
emphatic words in a subsequent strain which we shall come to consider--"It
is Christ that died, yes rather, that is risen again."
Blessed Savior! may I be enabled to "know You, and the
power of Your resurrection" (Phil. 3;10). I would enter by faith Your
vacant tomb, and hear the angel-announcement--"He is not here, He is risen
as He said; come, see the place where the Lord lay." No, more; I would see
in all this, what disarms the sting in the first clause of the passage now
before us--"the body is dead because of SIN;"--for I see, in You,
death and sin alike doomed. In You the grave has become the robing-room for
immortality. So completely has Your dying vanquished the last enemy and his
dominion, that You are said to have "abolished death," and to have
"brought life and immortality to light." I can understand now the meaning of
Paul elsewhere, when, in enumerating the contents of the Christian's
charter--the roll and record of the believer's privileges, he includes the
startling entry--"All things are yours…DEATH" (1 Cor. 3;22). He was writing
to the world's Metropolis--to those familiar with their Appian Way--the long
street of tombs, ending in the Via Sacra with the Forum and Capitol.
Earth in a wider sense is one long Appian Way--a vista and avenue of
sepulchers, with the universal inscription--"Sin has reigned unto death."
But, through Him who has raised up Christ from the dead, it resolves itself
into a "Sacred Approach," leading to the City whose walls are salvation and
its gates praise--on whose entrance--its triumphal arch--the words are
emblazoned--"And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away"
Meanwhile, in the prospect of that glorious quickening,
when His people will be changed into "the body of His glory,"--may it be my
longing and aspiration, that "the spirit"--the renewed, quickened,
and regenerated spirit--may be "life because of righteousness." May I
be imbued with a spirit instinct with holiness. Above all, desiring to be
"like" my risen Lord. The exhortation of the Apostle of love seems the
appropriate one in this longing after purity and consecration of heart and
life--"And every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He
is pure" ( 1 John 3;3). It is a solemn test and touchstone which ushers in
our present verses--"IF Christ be in you!" Is my life now "hidden with
Christ in God"? Is His love enthroned in my heart, and is it expelling all
less worthy aspirations? Partaker of this Resurrection-life of Jesus, let me
so rise above the fear of natural death, that seen in the morning light of
the great coming Easter it may appear like a "going home."
And may not all this be deepened and intensified, when I
think of it in connection with the beloved dead? Those rayless eyes will be
lighted again. The music of that hushed voice will be awakened again. In the
certainty of that quickening, we are lifted far above the poor Xaipe (the
farewell) on Pagan tombs. As we pace these dark and doleful realms of death,
the sound as of the silver trumpet is heard. It is a Song of Songs in
long antecedent years, sung by no Apostle but by the Lord of life Himself;
as looking down the vista of ages, He exclaims--"I will ransom them from the
power of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be your
plague; O grave, I will be your destruction" (Hos. 13;14). "Your dead shall
live;…awake and sing, you that dwell in dust" (Isa. 26;19).
Hear how, in other beautiful words of comfort, our
Apostle connects the Resurrection of Christ with the glorious awaking of His
sleeping saints. It is not the poet's "Sleep, the sleep that knows no
waking." "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall
asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that
Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus
those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we
tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the
Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord
himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of
the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will
rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught
up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we
will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thess. 4;13-17). "Together with them;"
and "forever with the Lord!" Death is the transmuting and transforming
of human relations into a life which is impossible in the earthly sphere. It
is, with reverence we call it--a Transfiguration on the Mount of Heaven.
This meditation cannot be more appropriately closed, than
by quoting two passages which seem written as if an express comment on the
verses which have claimed our attention--two sweet melodies in full harmony
with our Song of Songs;
"All honor to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, for it is by his boundless mercy that God has given us the privilege
of being born again. Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus
Christ rose again from the dead." 1 Peter 1:3
For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed
into heavenly bodies that will never die. When this happens—when our
perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that
will never die—then at last the Scriptures will come true:
"Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law
gives sin its power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and
death through Jesus Christ our Lord! 1 Cor. 15:53-57