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Who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead.—Col. I. 18.
I COME now to consider the first particular title which is given to Christ.
There are two other titles given to Christ—the one respects the state of grace, the other .the state of glory. And,
First, With respect to the state of grace, he is called ἀρχὴ, the beginning—that is, Origo mundi melioris, the beginning of the new creature as well as the old; for the same place and dignity which Christ hath in the order of nature he hath in the order of grace also. Therefore he is called ‘the beginning of the creation of God.’ Rev. iii. 14. The word ἀρχὴ is not taken there passively, as if it were the first thing that was created, but actively, that he giveth a being and beginning to all things that are created, and by the creation of God is meant the new creation. So that the point is—
Doct. That Jesus Christ is the author and beginning of the new creation.
I shall briefly explain this, and pass to the next branch. Christ is the beginning two ways:—
I. In a way of order and dignity.
II. In a way of causality.
I. In a way of order, as first and chief of the renewed state. This is many ways set forth in scripture. Two things I shall take notice of:—
1. That he is the builder of the church.
2. The lord and governor of it.
1. As founder and builder of the church: Mat. xvi. 18, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church.’ Christ challenges it to himself as his own peculiar prerogative to build the church. More fully, the apostle, Heb. iii. 3-5, ‘For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he that builded the house hath more honour than the house; for every house is built by some man, but he that buildeth all things is God. And again, Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant, but Christ as a Son over his own house.’ The scope of the apostle is to prove that Christ must have the pre-eminence above all others that have been employed in and about God’s house. Moses was one of the chief of that sort, that had greater familiarity with God than others, and intrusted by him in very great and weighty matters; yet Christ was not only equal to Moses, but far above him. He proveth it by a comparison taken from a builder and an house, and from a lord of the house and a servant in the house; but Christ is the builder of the house, and Moses but a part of the house. Christ is the Lord, and Moses but the servant, therefore Christ is more excellent and worthy of greater honour. One of the noblest works of God is the church of the first-born; none could build, frame, and constitute this but the Son of God coming down in our flesh, and so recovering the lost world into an holy society which might be dedicated to God. For the materials of this house are men sinful and guilty. Neither men nor angels could raise them up into an holy temple to God; none but the eternal Word or the Son of God incarnate: ‘he that buildeth all things is God’—τα πὰντα, all these things, the things treated of; he doth not speak of the first creation, but the second, the restoring of the lapsed world to God.
2. The other honour is that Christ is Lord of the new creation, as well as the founder and builder of it; for the world to come is put in subjection to him, not to the angels, Heb. ii. 7. By the world to come is not meant the state of glory, but the state of the church under the times of the gospel. It is made subject to God the Redeemer; it is solely and immediately in his power, and under his authority, and cast into a dependence upon him.
II. In a way of causality. So he is the beginning, either as a moral or efficient cause.
1. As a moral meritorious cause. We are renewed by God’s creating power, but through the intervening mediation of Christ, or God’s creating power is put forth with respect to his merit. The life of grace is purchased by his death: 1 John iv. 9, ‘God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live by him.’ Here spiritually, hereafter eternally. For life is opposite to death incurred by sin. We were dead legally, as sentenced to death by the law; and spiritually, as disabled for the service of our Creator. And how by him? That he speaketh of ver. 10—by his being a propitiation. We were in the state of death when the doors of mercy were first opened to us, under the guilt and power of sin; but we live when the guilt of sin is pardoned, and the power of sin broken. But this life we have not without Christ being a propitiation for our sins, or doing that which was necessary, whereby God without impeachment of honour might show himself placable and propitious to mankind.
2. As an efficient cause; by the efficacy of his Spirit, who worketh in us as members of Christ’s mystical body. Wherefore it is said, 2 Cor. v. 17, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;’ and Eph. ii. 10, ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.’ Whatever grace we have cometh from God through Christ as Mediator, and from him we have it by virtue of our union with him. It is first applied by the converting grace, and then continually supplied by the confirming grace of the Spirit. The influence we have from him as our head is life and likeness.
[1.] Life: Gal. ii. 20, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh,’ &c. Christ is the beginning of the new life, therefore he is called the prince, or author of life. All life is derived from the head to the body, so we derive life from Christ: John vi. 57, ‘As I live by the Father, so he that eateth me shall live by me.’ We derive life from Christ, as he from the Father.
[2.] Likeness: Gal. iv. 19, ‘My little children, of whom I travail in birth till Christ be formed in you,’ and 2 Cor. iii. 18. It is for the honour of Christ that his image and superscription should be upon his members, to distinguish them from others. In short, as to life, he is the root: John xv. 1, 2, ‘I am the true vine, and.’ &c. As to likeness, he is the pattern: Rom. viii. 29, ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.’
Secondly, The reasons of this.
1. It is for the honour of the Son of God that he should be head of the new world. In the kingdom of Christ all things are new. There is a new covenant, which is the gospel; a new paradise, not that where Adam enjoyed God among the beasts and trees of the garden, but where the blessed enjoy God amongst the angels. A new ministry, not the family of Aaron, or tribe of Levi, but the ministry of reconciliation, whom God hath qualified and fitted to be dispensers of these holy mysteries. New ordinances; we serve God not in the oldness of the letter, but the newness of the Spirit; new members, or new creatures, that are made partakers of the benefits, therefore also a new head, or a second Adam, that must be the beginning of this new creation, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is made a quickening spirit to all his members: 1 Cor. xv. 45, ‘The first Adam was made a living soul, the second a quickening spirit.’ Adam communicated natural life to his posterity, but from Christ we have the Spirit.
2. It is suited to our lost estate. We were in a state of apostasy and defection from God, averse from all good, prone to all evil. Now that we might have a new being and life, the Son of God came in our nature to rectify the disordered creation. The scripture representeth man as blind in his mind, perverse in his will, rebellious in his affections, having no sound part left in him to mend the rest; therefore we must be changed. But by whom? who shall make us of unclean to become pure and holy? Not one amongst all the bare natural sons of men, Job xiv. 4. Of carnal to become spiritual? We must be new made and new born: John iii. 6, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit;’ that we may mind the things of the Spirit, and not of the flesh. Of worldly to become heavenly? ‘He that formeth us for this very thing is God.’ 2 Cor. v. 5. He that is the framer and maker of all things; a God of infinite wisdom, power, and love, he frameth and createth us anew.
Use 1. To show us the necessity of regeneration.
Use 2. The excellence of it.
1. The necessity. We must have another beginning than we had as bare creatures: it is one thing to make us men, another to make us saints or Christians. We have understanding, will, affections, and senses as men, but we have these sanctified as Christians. The world thinketh Christianity puts strange names upon ordinary things; but is it an ordinary thing to row against the stream of flesh and blood, and to raise men to those inclinations and affections to which nature is an utter stranger—to have a divine nature put into us? 2 Pet. i. 4. The necessity is more bound upon us if we look upon ourselves not only as men but Christians; for whosoever is in Christ is a new creature. Some are in Christ by external profession, de jure; they are bound to be new creatures, that they may not dishonour their head. Others by real internal union. They not only ought to be, but de facto are, new creatures, because they are made partakers of his Spirit, and by that Spirit are renewed and sanctified. Little can they make out their recovery to God, and interest in Christ, who are not sensible of any change wrought in them, who have the old thoughts, the old discourses, the old passions, and the old affections, and their old conversations still; the same deadness to holy things, the same proneness to please the flesh, the same carelessness to please or honour God; and the drift and bent of their lives is as much for the world, and as little for God and heaven as before.
2. The excellency of regeneration or renewing grace. What a benefit it is, it appeareth in two things:—
1. That it is the fruit of reconciling grace: 2 Cor. v. 18, ‘All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.’ God gives grace only as the God of peace, as pacified by the death of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the gift of his love, and the fruit of this peace and reconciliation which Christ made for us. Our Lord Jesus Christ merited this grace by the value of his sacrifice and bloody sufferings, Titus iii. 5, 6.
2. It is applied to us by the almighty power of his Spirit. Christ is first the ransom for, then the fountain of life to, our souls; and so the honour of our entire and whole recovery is to be ascribed only to our Redeemer, who, as he satisfied the justice of God for our sins, so he also purchased a power to change our hearts; and he purchased this power into his own hands, not into another’s, and therefore doth accomplish it by his Spirit, 2 Cor. iii. 18. We should often think what a foundation God hath laid for the dispensation of his grace, and how he would demonstrate his infinite love in giving us his Son to be a propitiation for us, and at the same time showeth forth his infinite power in renewing and changing the heart of man, and all to bring us back to him, to make us capable of serving and pleasing him.
I come now to the other title, which respects the life of glory: ‘The first-born from the dead.’ The same appellation almost is given to Christ when he is called, Rev. i. 5, ‘The first-begotten from the dead.’ The reason of both is, because those that arise from the dead are, as it were, new born, and, therefore, the resurrection from the dead is called a regeneration, Mat. xix. 28. And as to Christ in particular, the grave, when he was in it, is represented as being under the pains and throes of a woman in travail: Acts ii. 24, λύσας τὰς ὠδῖνας τοῦ θανάτου, ‘God having loosed the pains of death, for it was not possible that he should be holden of it;’ but which is not only a metaphor, but a higher mystery. St Paul referreth that prophecy, Ps. ii. 7, ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,’ in Acts xiii. 33, to the resurrection of Christ: ‘God hath raised up Jesus from the dead; as it is also written, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.’ Things are said to be done when they are manifested to be done. Compare Rom. i. 4, ‘Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.’ So the adoption of believers shall appear by their resurrection: Rom. viii. 19, ‘The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God;’ ver. 23, ‘And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body;’ 1 John iii. 2, ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ This for the title of ‘First-born from the dead.’
Doct. That Christ’s rising from the dead is the evidence and assurance of a Christian’s happy resurrection.
1. Let me open the terms.
2. Vindicate the notion.
3. Show you how this is an evidence and assurance to all good Christians of their happy and joyful resurrection.
1. For the terms. He is here called ‘The first-born from the dead.’ If the grave was as the womb to him, and his resurrection as a birth, then Christ was in a manner born when he rose again. Only he hath the precedency—he is the first-born, he rises first, and surely others will follow after him. So we read, Acts xxvi. 23, ‘That he should be the first-born that should rise from the dead;’ as he saith elsewhere, ‘First Christ, then they that are Christ’s.’ Christ hath the primacy of order and the principality of influence. So again he is said to be ‘the first-fruits of them that slept,’ 1 Cor. xv. 20. As in the consecrating of the first-fruits the whole harvest is also consecrated, so Christ by rising himself raises all others with him to eternal glory and happiness. And so his resurrection is a certain proof that others shall have a resurrection also.
2. Let us vindicate the notion here used by the apostle. How was he the first-born, the first-fruits, the first raised from the dead? Two objections lie against it:—
[1.] That many were raised from the dead before Christ.
[2.] Concerning the resurrection of the wicked. They are not parts of his mystical body, and in respect of them how could Christ rise as the first-born and the first-fruits?
I. For the first objection, how was Christ the first, since many were raised before him? As the widow of Sarepta’s son, who was raised to life by Elijah, 1 Kings xvii.; the Shunammite’s son by Elisha, 2 Kings iv.; a dead man by the touch of Elisha’s bones, 2 Kings xiii. 21. Our Saviour in his lifetime raised the widow of Nam’s only son, Luke vii. 15; Jairus’s daughter, Luke viii. 55; Lazarus, John xi. 44; some others at his death, Mat. xxvii. 52. How was he then the first? I answer—
[1.] We must distinguish of a proper and an improper resurrection. Christ was the first-born from the dead, because he arose from the dead by a proper resurrection, which is to arise again to a life immortal; others were raised again to a mortal estate, and so the great disease was rather removed than cured. Christ’s resurrection is a resurrection to immortality, not to die any more; as the apostle saith, ‘Death hath no more power over him.’ They only returned to their natural life, they were raised from the dead, but still mortal; but ‘he whom God raised again shall see no corruption,’ Acts xiii. 34.
[2.] Others are raised by the power and virtue of his resurrection, but he hath risen again by his own power, John x. 18, ‘I have power to lay down my life, and power to take it up again.’ Raising the dead is a work of divine power, for it belongs to him to restore life who gave it at first. Therefore Christ is said not only to be raised again, but to rise from the dead: Rom. iv. 25, ‘He died for our offences, and rose again for our justification.’ as the sun sets and rises by his own motion.
[3.] All those that rose again before Christ, arose only by special dispensation, to lay down their bodies once more when God should see fit, and rose only as private and single persons; but Christ rose as a public person. His resurrection is the cause and pattern of ours, for head and members do not rise by a different power; he rose again to show the virtue that should quicken our mortal bodies, and raise them at length.
2. The second objection is concerning the raising of the wicked. Christ cannot be the first-born or the first-fruits to them, they belong not to his mystical body. The first-born implieth a relation to the rest of the family; and offering of the first-fruits did not sanctify the tares, the cockle, or the darnel, or the weeds that grow amongst the corn, but only the corn itself. I answer—
[1.] Certain it is that the wicked shall rise again, there is no question of that, Acts xxiv. 15. I believe a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust, all that have lived, whether they have done good or evil: Mat. v. 45, ‘He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust;’ and it is said, John v. 28, 29, ‘All that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation.’ Both must rise, that both may receive a full recompense according to their several ways; and though it be said, Ps. i. 5, ‘The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.’ it doth not infringe this truth. The sense is, those unhappy miscreants shall not be able to abide the trial, as being self-condemned. To stand in the judgment is to make a bold defence. And whereas it is said, also, they shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous, you must know that at the day of doom there is a congregation or a gathering together of all men, then a segregation, a separating the sheep from the goats, then an aggregation—‘He shall set the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left’—so that they make up two distinct bodies, one of the good, which is there called the congregation of the righteous, the other of the wicked, who are to be judged by Christ as a just and righteous judge, assisted with his holy angels, and the great assembly and council of saints. Not one of the sinners shall remain in the company of the righteous, nor appear in their society.
[2.] The wicked are raised ex officio judicis, not beneficio mediatoris; they are raised by Christ as a judge, but not by him as a Redeemer. The .one sort are raised by the power of his vindicative justice, the other by the Holy Ghost by virtue of his covenant: Rom. viii. 11, ‘He shall quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.’ The one by Christ’s power from without, put forth by him as judge of dead and living; the other by an inward quickening influence that flows from him as their proper head. When the reaper gathers the wheat into his barn, the tares are bound in bundles and cast into unquenchable fire, Mat. xiii. 30.
[3.] The wicked are forced to appear, and cannot shift that dreadful tribunal, the other go joyfully forth to meet the bridegroom; and when the sentence of condemnation shall be executed upon the one, the other by virtue of Christ’s life and resurrection shall enter into the possession of a blessed and eternal life, wherein they shall enjoy God and Christ, and the company of saints and angels, and sing hallelujahs for ever and ever.
Thirdly, How is this an evidence and assurance to all good Christians of their happy and glorious resurrection?
1. The resurrection of Christ doth prove that there shall be a resurrection.
2. That to the faithful it shall be a blessed and glorious resurrection.
1. There shall be a resurrection: it is necessary to prove that; partly because it is the foundation of all godliness. If there were not another life after this, there were some ground for that saying of the atheists, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die,’ 2 Cor. xv. 32. If there be no future estate nor being after this life, let us enjoy the good things of the world whilst we can, for within a little while death cometh, and then there is an end of all. These atheistical discourses and temptations to sensuality were more justifiable if men were annihilated by death. No! the soul is immortal, and the body shall rise again, and come into the judgment; and unless we live holily, a terrible judgment it will be to us. Partly because we cannot easily believe that the same body shall be placed in heaven which we see committed to the grave to rot there. Of all articles of religion this is most difficultly assented unto. Now there is relief for us in this business in hand: ‘Christ is the first-born from the dead.’ There were many praeludia resurrectionis, foretokens and pledges of the resurrection given to the old world, in the translation of Enoch, the rapture of Elijah, the reviving of these few dead ones which I spake of before; but the great and public evidence that is given for the assurance of the world is Christ’s rising from the grave. This makes our resurrection:—
[3.] Certain and necessary.
[1.] Possible. The least that we can gather from it is this, that it is not impossible for dead men to rise; for that which hath been may be. We have the proof and instance of it in Christ; see how the apostle reasoneth: 1 Cor. xv. 13, ‘If there be no resurrection from the dead, then Christ is not risen, and then our whole faith falleth to the ground.’ For all religion is bottomed on the resurrection of Christ; if therefore Christ be risen, why should it seem an incredible thing to us that others should be raised also?
[2.] It is easy. For by rising from the dead he hath conquered death and gotten the victory of it, 1 Cor. xv. 57. A separation there will be of the soul from the body, but it is not such as shall last for ever. The victory over sin is the victory over death, and the conquest of sin makes death an entrance into immortality. The scriptures often speak of Christ destroying the power of death: Heb. ii. 14, ‘That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death.’ The devil’s design was, by tempting men to sin, to keep them for ever under the power of death, but Christ came to rescue men from that power by a resurrection from death to life. Again it is said, ‘He hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light in the gospel.’ He hath voided the power of death by taking a course for the destruction of sin, and made a clear revelation of that life and immortality which was not so certainly known before. We look to the natural impossibilities, how what is turned to dust may be raised again, because we do not consider the power of God; but the moral impossibility is the greater, for ‘the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law;’ that which makes sin able to do us hurt is the guilt of sin, otherwise it would be but as a calm sleep; and this guilt is bound upon us by the law of the righteous God, which threateneth eternal death to the sinner. Now get free from sin, and it is easy to believe the conquest of death. I will prove two things—that Christ’s resurrection shows both his victory over sin, and his victory over death.
[1.] His victory over sin. That he hath perfectly satisfied for sin, and appeased the wrath of God, who is willing to be reconciled with all those that come to the faith and obedience of the gospel, which could not be if Christ had remained under the power of death; for the apostle saith, 1 Cor. xv. 17, ‘If Christ had not risen, ye are yet in your sins’—that is, God is not pacified, there is no sufficient means of atonement or foundation laid for our reconciliation with him. But his resurrection declareth that he is fully satisfied with the ransom paid for sinners by Jesus Christ, for it was in effect the releasing of our surety out of prison; so it is said, Rom. iv. 15, ‘He was delivered for our offences, and raised up for our justification.’ He died to expiate and do away sin, and his resurrection showeth it was a sufficient ransom, and therefore he can apply the virtue of it to us.
[2.] His victory over death. For he got out of it, which not only shows there is a possibility for a man by the power of God to be raised from death to life, but a facility; as a second Adam he brought resurrection into the world—there were two Adams, the one man brought death, and another brought resurrection into the world. The sentence of death is gone out against all the children of Adam as such, and the regenerate believers that are recovered by Christ shall be raised to immortal life: he hath gotten out of the power of death, so shall we.
[3.] Certain and necessary. For several reasons.
First, Our relation to Christ, he is the head of the body. Now the head will not live gloriously in heaven and leave his members behind him under the power of death. Believers are called the fulness of him that filleth all things, Eph. i. 23. Head and members make up one perfect man, or mystical body, which is called the fulness of Christ, Eph. iv. 13. Otherwise it would be a maimed Christ, or a head without a body, and therefore we should not doubt but he will raise us up with him.
Secondly, The charge and office of Christ, which he will attend upon and see that it be carefully performed: John vi. 39, ‘This is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but raise it up again at the last day;’ as none so nothing; in the prophet’s expression concerning the good shepherd, not so much as a leg or a piece of an ear, that he should be careful to preserve every one who belongs to his charge, and what ever befalls them here, he is to see them forthcoming at the last day, and to give a particular account of them to God. Now certainly Christ will be very careful to fulfil his charge and make good his office.
Thirdly, There is the mercy of God through the merits of Christ towards his faithful ones who have hazarded their bodies and their bodily interests for his sake: 1 Thes. iv. 14, ‘If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even those also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.’ Upon the belief of Christ’s death and resurrection depends also the raising of their bodies that die for the testimony of Christ, or by occasion of faith in Christ, and that so certainly and speedily, that they that die not at all shall at the day of judgment have no advantage of those that have lain in the grave so many years, the raising of the one being in the same twinkling of an eye with the change of the other, for the apostle saith, they that are alive shall not prevent them that are asleep. So 2 Cor. iv. 14, ‘Knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise us up also with Jesus, and present us with you.’ He gives it as the reason why he had the same spirit of faith with David, who in his sore afflictions professed his confidence in God, because he believed he spake. So they do profess the faith of Christ, though imminent death and danger is always represented to them as before their eyes. Because they steadfastly believed that God would raise them to a glorious estate through Christ, therefore did they openly proclaim what they did believe concerning him. To the same purpose to confirm Timothy against all danger of death: 1 Tim. vi, 13, ‘I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things’—that is, as thou believest that God is able and will raise thee from the dead, that thou hold out constantly unto the death, and do not shrink for persecution.
2. It proveth that to the faithful it shall be a blessed and a glorious resurrection.
[1.] Because Christ’s resurrection is not only a cause but a pattern of ours; there is not only a communion between the head and members in the mystical body, but a conformity. The members were appointed to be conformed to their head, as in obedience and sufferings, so in happiness and glory; here in the one, hereafter in the other: Rom. viii. 29, ‘He hath predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son.’ As Christ was raised from the dead, so we shall be raised from the dead. God ‘raised him from the dead, and gave him glory and honour, that your faith and hope might be in God,’ 1 Pet. i. 21. So God will raise us from the dead and put glory and honour upon us. There is indeed a glory put upon Christ far surpassing the glory of all created things; but our glory is like his for quality and kind, though not for quantity, degree, and measure, as to those prerogatives and privileges which his body in his exaltation is endowed withal. Such a glory it is that Christ shall be admired in his saints; the world shall stand gazing at what he means to do.
[2.] By the grant of God. They have a right and title to this glorious estate; being admitted into his family, they may hereafter expect to be admitted into his presence. The Holy Spirit abideth in them as an earnest, till it be accomplished: Eph. i. 14, ‘Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our in heritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession.’ The Spirit of holiness marketh and distinguished them as heirs of promise from all others. The mark or seal is the impression of Christ’s image on the soul; this seal becomes an earnest or part of payment, which is a security or assurance to us that more will follow, a fuller conformity to Christ in the glorious estate; and this earnest doth continue till the redemption of the purchased possession; the purchased possession is the church, and their redemption is their final deliverance, Eph. iv. 30, when their bodies are redeemed from the bands of the grave. See Rom. viii. 28.
Use 1. Is to persuade you to the belief of two grand articles of faith—the resurrection of Christ, and your own resurrection.
1. The resurrection of Christ. The raising of Christ from the dead is the great prop and foundation of our faith: 1 Cor. xv. 14, ‘If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain.’ All the apostles’ preaching was built upon this supposition, that Christ died and rose again. Partly because this is the great evidence of the truth of the Christian religion; for hereby Christ was evidenced to be what he gave out himself to be, the eternal Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, ‘whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he raised him from the dead,’ Acts xxiii. 31, that is the ground of faith and assurance. So Acts xiii. 33, ‘God hath raised Jesus from the dead, for it is written, Thou art my Son,’ &c. Partly to show that he is in a capacity to convey life to others, both spiritual and eternal; which, if he had remained under the state of death, could not be. The life of believers is derived from the life of Christ: John xiv. 19, ‘Because I live.’ &c. If he had been holden of death, he had neither been a fountain of grace nor glory to us: 1 Pet. i. 3, ‘He hath begotten us unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.’ Partly because the raising of Christ is the pledge of God’s omnipotency, which is our relief in all difficult cases; the power which raised Christ exceedeth all contrary powers, Eph. i. 20, 21. Now the resurrection of Christ, besides the veritableness of the report manifested by the circumstances, when a great stone was rolled at the mouth of the sepulchre, a guard of soldiers set to watch against all fraud and impostures, yet he brake through; his frequent apparitions to the apostles, yea, to five hundred disciples at once, 1 Cor. xv. 6, a great part of which were alive to testify the truth of it for some competent space of time; his pouring out of the Spirit; the apostles witnessing the truth of it in the teeth of opposition; his appearing from heaven to Paul; the prophecies of the Old Testament foretelling of it; the miracles wrought to confirm it; the holiness of the persons who were employed as chosen witnesses; their unconcernedness in all temporal interests; their hazarding of all; their success. It would make a volume to give you the evidences.
2. Your own resurrection, what may facilitate our belief and hope of it?
[1.] Consider it is a work of omnipotency. We are apt to say, How can it be, that when our bodies are turned into dust, and that dust mingled with other dust, and hath undergone many transmutations, that every one shall have his own body and flesh again? Why, consider the infinite and absolute power of God, and this will make it more reconcilable to your thoughts, and this hard point will be of easier digestion to your faith. To an infinite power there is no difficulty at all: Phil. iii. 21, ‘According to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.’ He appeals to God’s power, how much God’s power outworks our thoughts; for he were not infinite if he might be comprehended. We are not fit judges of the extent of his power; many things are marvellous in our eyes which are not so to his, Zech. viii. 6. Therefore we must not confine God to the limits of created beings or our finite understandings. Alas! our cockleshell cannot empty an ocean: we do no more know what God can do than a worm knoweth a man. He that made the world out of nothing, cannot he raise the dead? He that brought such multitudes of creatures out of the dark chaos, hath he forgotten what is become of our dust? He that gave life and being to that which before was not, cannot he raise the dead? He that turned Moses’ rod into a serpent, and from a serpent into a rod again, cannot he raise us out of dust into men, and turn us from men into dust, and from the same dust raise us up into the same men and women again?
[2.] We have a relief from the justice of God. All will grant that God is, and that God is a rewarder of good and bad. Now in this life he doth not dispense these rewards. Many times here instruments of public good are made a sacrifice to public hatred, and wicked men have the world at will; therefore there is a judgment when this life is ended; and if there be a judgment, men must be capable to receive reward and punishment. You will say, so they are by having an immortal soul; ay! but the soul is not all of a man, the body is a part: it hath had its share in the work, and therefore it is most equal to conceive it shall have its share in the reward and punishment. It is the body which is gratified by the pleasure of sin for a season, the body which hath endured the trouble and pain of faithful obedience unto Christ, therefore there shall be a resurrection of just and unjust, that men may receive according to what they have done in the body. God made the whole man, therefore glorifies and punishes the whole man. The apostle urgeth this as to the godly, 1 Cor. xv. 29,
[3.] God’s unchangeable covenant love, which inclines him to seek the dust of his confederates. God hath taken a believer into covenant with himself, body and soul; therefore Christ proveth the resurrection from God’s covenant title, Mat. xxii. 31. To be a God is certainly to be a benefactor, Gen. xxv. 26; not ‘Blessed be Shem,’ but ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem.’ And to be a benefactor, becoming an infinite eternal power. If he had not eternal glory to bestow upon us, he would not justify his covenant title, Heb. xi. 16. To whom God is a benefactor, he is a benefactor not to one part only, but to their whole persons. Their bodies had the mark of his covenant upon them, their dust is in covenant with him, and wherever it is dispersed, he will look after it. Their death and rotting in the grave doth not make void his interest, nor cause his care and affection towards them to cease.
[4.] We have relief also from the redemption of Christ, which extendeth to the bodies of the saints, as it is often interpreted in scripture; as where Christ speaks of his Father’s charge—this was a special article in the eternal covenant: John vi. 39, 40. ‘This is the will of my Father, that of all that he hath given me I should lose nothing, but raise it up at the last day.’ Christ hath engaged himself to this; he is the guardian of the grave, as Rispah kept the dead bodies of Saul’s sons, 2 Sam. xxi. 10. Christ hath the keys of death and hell; he hath a charge of the elect to the very day of their resurrection that he may make a good account of them, and may not lose so much as their dust, but gather it up again. What shall I say? When the intention of his death is spoken of: 1 Thes. v. 10, ‘That whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him;’ that is, whether dead or alive; for they that are dead in the Lord, are said to be fallen asleep. Whether we live or die, we should live a spiritual life here, and eternal life in glory hereafter. So where the obligation: 1 Cor. vi. 20, ‘Ye are bought with a price.’ There would be no consequence if Christ had not purchased the body as well as the soul, and Christ will not lose one jot of his purchase; if he expect duty from the body, you may expect glory for the body; so redemption is particularly applied to the body: Rom. viii. 23, ‘Waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’ Then is Christ’s redemption full, when the body is exempted from all the penalties induced by sin.
[5.] The honour which is put upon the bodies of the saints.
(1.) They are members of Christ: 1 Cor. vi. 15, ‘Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of an harlot? God forbid.’ No members of Christ can for ever remain under death, but shall certainly be raised up again. When a godly man dieth, the union between soul and body is dissolved, but not the union between him and Christ, as Christ’s own natural body in the grave was not separated from his person, and the hypostatical union was not dissolved;—it was the Lord of glory which was crucified, and the Lord of glory which was laid in the grave,—so the mystical union is not dissolved between Christ and his people, who are his mystical body, when they are dead.
(2.) They are temples of the Holy Ghost; therefore if they be destroyed they shall be built up again: 1 Cor. vi. 19, ‘Know ye not that your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost?’ As Christ redeemed not the soul only, but the whole man, so the Spirit in Christ’s name takes possession both of body and soul; the body is cleansed and sanctified by the Spirit, as well as the soul; and therefore it is quickened by the Spirit: Rom. viii. 11, ‘If the Spirit of him that raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit which dwelleth in you.’ The Holy Ghost will not leave his mansion or dwelling-place; the dust of believers belongs to them who were once his temple. So it is a pledge of the resurrection. Now therefore labour with yourselves, think often of it.
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