Book traversal links for 1 Corinthians (Lectures 31-35)
Godly Order, In The Assembly Of The Saints
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order. (vv. 26-40)
We are now to consider the practical working out of all this in the public assemblies of the people of God. Instinctively, we feel, I think, as we come to these verses, that they speak of conditions, of order in the early churches, of which we know very little today. This ought surely to lead us to search and try our ways, and to see how far we have departed from the simplicity of primitive Christianity.
I do not mean to imply that there is not a certain amount of liberty given in Scripture to adapt ourselves and the order of our meetings to the times in which we live and the recognized customs prevailing among different races and nations, because it is clear that we are not under restraint as to this. We are told in this very passage to “let all things be done decently and in order.” This might be rendered “respectably and by arrangement.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of liberty, and He does not seek to press everyone into one mold. He is the Spirit of a sound mind, and He expects us to use God-given common sense in carrying on the work of the Lord, and in the conduct of our assemblies.
But in these closing verses of this chapter He lays down certain principles which should govern us as we are gathered together for worship and the ministry of the Word. It is God who gathers His people around His blessed Son, our Risen Lord, who says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst” (Matt. 18:20). While these words had reference originally, as the context shows, to a prayer meeting, they really apply to all assemblies of the saints of God, whether they come together for worship, for ministry, or for intercession. On such occasions all should be subject to the Holy Spirit’s direction.
You get the practical application of this in the verses that follow: “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” Because of the liberty they had in Christ, those early Christians were in the habit of participating in the meetings as their own feelings prompted them. One would sing a psalm, another would speak in a tongue, another would interpret, another had a doctrine, someone would have a fresh revelation from God; and it resulted in sad confusion. The apostle shows that all things should be done in an orderly and godly manner and with the edification of the whole company in view, not the personal enjoyment of some gifted individual.
“If any man speak in a…tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course,” not several at one time, and let there be an interpreter. “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” One might say, “But it is the Lord who has given me the gift of tongues, so I must speak out in meeting.” But this does not necessarily follow, for Paul says, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” It is plain that even if one has such a gift, if he could not interpret, he must remain silent in the church. This shows that a tongue is a definite language, which might be interpreted if another understood it, so that all might understand and be edified.
And in regard to prophesying, let them speak two or three, not a large number in one service, and let the others judge; that is, in the sense of discerning; they are to weigh all carefully before God and compare it with the Word. None of us has a right to say, “This is the truth of God and I demand a hearing.” Our Lord Himself urged the people to search the Scriptures. The preacher is to speak, the people are to listen, and then to compare what they hear with the Word. But if another would speak, let the first hold his peace; that is, wait until the other is through. Everything is to be done in an orderly way. “Ye may all prophesy one by one.” But not more than three in one meeting, lest there be confusion instead of spiritual edification. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”
And then in the next few verses we have something over which there has been a great deal of controversy in the church of God, but there should not be. If one would speak in tongues, but there is no interpreter, he is to keep silent. If a prophet is speaking and another would follow, let the first keep silent. Now the next verse: “Let your women keep silence in the churches.” Surely, “keep silence” means exactly the same here as in the other instances. But by “churches” he does not mean buildings. He is not telling us that no woman could give a testimony or offer prayer in a religious building. The word for church is properly “assembly”; and what he is saying is this: “When you are gathered together in your regular church service, let the women keep silent in the assembly, for they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” Now we need to remember this is by the Holy Spirit as truly as any other part of the epistle. He said it through Paul, the inspired apostle. Some have objected that Paul was an old bachelor and did not like women! He was the inspired servant of God and wrote as directed by the Holy Spirit. Now this does not touch the question raised in the eleventh chapter, where women, providing they had their heads covered, were permitted to pray and prophesy in some other sphere. But here the reference is to the official meeting of the church when all are gathered together as a worshiping company. If at such a time the women hear something they do not understand, do not let them interrupt the meeting by inquiring aloud nor by seeking to teach. Let them ask their husbands at home. “Well,” a lady said to me, “that is not meant for me; I have no husband.” The word for “husband” is elsewhere rendered “man.” Let them ask their men at home. Neither men nor women were to interrupt in a public assembly, but let them discuss things at home if there is something they do not understand. In these days, it is often the men that do not understand and they ask the women at home! It should be noted that in those early days only a few women, comparatively, could read or write. You have to take into consideration the time when the letter was written, when slavery and debasement of women were common. But I think the principle is clear enough. And then, lest there should be any misunderstanding, the apostle asks, “Came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Well, the Word of God came to us. Very well, then. We are not to decide what we are going to accept or reject. God Himself speaks with authority. We are to do as He commands. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” What things? Why, the things we have just been reading in this passage. They are the commandments of the Lord. But if any one objects to this, Paul puts him down among those who are ill-taught. “If any man be ignorant,” just let him take the place of ignorance and say he does not understand, but do not let him pretend to be wiser than those who obey the injunction of the Lord.
He concludes this section with these words: “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” So if there is anybody attending the meetings of the church who can talk in a language he has never learned, let there be an interpreter so that people may understand; but do not try to pass off something that cannot be interpreted. The apostle is speaking of definite languages.
And so from chapter 10 to the close of chapter 14, the Spirit has given us the divine order for the assembly of God, and he adds the words we have referred to already, “Let all things be done decently,” that is, “respectably,” “and in order,” or, “by arrangement”; that is, such as the Word of God authorizes, not substituting an order which it condemns.
I realize that this is a section over which there has been a great deal of controversy, but it is one that the Spirit of God has given for the edification of the whole church, and we shall always find our greatest blessing as we are subject to His direction. Sometimes we think that we can improve upon what God has commanded, but we may be sure of this: that His ways are always best. This is not only true in the assembly of God, but in all details of every individual life.
Women have a wide sphere for service and testimony outside of the worship meeting of the assembly. The home is preeminently woman’s sphere. In social gatherings too she has abundant opportunity to witness for Christ. No one is more peculiarly adapted to work among children and to help her own sex than a godly, well-instructed woman. In visitation work, in the sickroom, and elsewhere, her services are invaluable. If God has restricted her so that it is not for her to usurp the place of pastor or teacher in the public assembly, it is not to slight her gifts, nor to ignore the value of her services elsewhere. The true test of love for Christ is obedience to His Word. He knows best what each one of us should do in order to glorify Him. Our happiness should consist in acting in accordance with His revealed Word. This honors God and glorifies the Head of the church, our blessed Lord.
A Priscilla may teach an Apollos, a Mary Magdalene may be the risen Lord’s messenger to His faint-hearted disciples, a regenerated woman of Samaria may evangelize the men of her city, a Dorcas may serve by ministering to the comfort of the poor, a Phoebe may be a deaconess of the assembly, but a woman, no matter how gifted and godly, is not to take the place of the man in the assembly of God, but to set an example of lowly subjection to the revealed will of God, assured that He values devoted obedience above any possible form of activity, however much it may be approved by those who have never learned to let God’s Word be the supreme authority.
The Gospel And The Witnesses To The Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. (vv. 1—11)
It is evident that there was a small party in the Corinthian assembly who had imbibed Sadducean notions and were seeking to foist them upon believers as the truth of God. They denied the reality of a physical resurrection. We need not suppose that they went so far as to deny spiritual survival after death, but they were like many today who refuse to accept the teaching of Scripture that the physical body of Christ came forth from the tomb in resurrection, and hence that the bodies of all men will eventually be raised.
Paul meets this serious error in this great resurrection section. As we ponder it and enter into its wonderful teaching, we are almost thankful that the error was permitted to arise so early in order that it might be met by the pen of inspiration. How much we would have lost had there been no occasion to write this magnificent chapter!
In preparing to combat, yes, to annihilate the false teaching, the apostle first gives a restatement of the evangel. He shows that there is no gospel to preach to dying men if the resurrection be denied. “Jesus and the resurrection,” we know, summarized the proclamation, not only of Paul, but of the Twelve. Festus wondered at the strange “superstition” about “one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” Yes, Jesus—the One who died, lives again, and lives in a material body, though glorified, and so marvelously changed as compared with what it was before the cross. But it bears the print of the nails still. On the throne the risen Christ appears “as a Lamb that had been slain.”
In verses 1-11 we have the restatement of the gospel, and the witnesses of the resurrection, which alone give validity to that message of redeeming grace.
“Moreover, brethren,” he says, “I declare unto you the gospel.” This gospel, this good news for lost sinners, he had preached and they had received. It was the gospel of grace, and in this they stood; for we need to remember that our standing is in grace as truly as our salvation is by grace. Through this gospel they were saved, providing their faith was genuine. He is not intimating in verse 2 that some who had believed the gospel might be lost at last, but rather that continuance in the faith was the evidence of reality. This is important. It is always true that “he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” It is quite possible to give a mere mental assent to the truth of the gospel and by baptism and lip profession to take the place of a Christian, when actually there has been no work of grace in the soul. This is to “believe in vain.” It is a mere empty faith which accomplishes nothing so far as the salvation of the individual is concerned. Real faith will be emphasized by godly living, and “he who hath begun a good work” in the believer “will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
In verses 3-4 he gives us the basic truths of the gospel, as he had preached it in Corinth and elsewhere. First, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” There are three things to be noticed here: “Christ died.” That is a fact of history, and in itself might not mean anything more than the death of a martyr. But, second, “for our sins” is a definite doctrinal statement and explains the reason for that death. It was an expiatory sacrifice. “He gave himself a ransom for all.” He took the sinner’s place and bore the sinner’s judgment. He died that we might never die. Third, this was “according to the scriptures.” Throughout the Old Testament, in type and actual prophetic declaration, we find the sacrificial, atoning death of Christ everywhere before us. All the sacrifices of former dispensations pictured His one offering of Himself upon the cross. The prophets looked forward to that great event as the supreme fact of revelation. Psalms 22; 69; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 12—13, and many other Scriptures, set this forth. God had declared in Leviticus 17:11, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls.” Yet we know that it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should put away sin. Only through the propitiatory death of Christ could this be accomplished, and, thank God, it has indeed taken place, and all in accordance with the Scriptures.
Then, observe, “He was buried.” This suggests the reality of His death. It was not, as Mrs. Eddy has intimated in her blasphemous chapter on Atonement, His
seeming death, but He was actually dead, and because He was dead they buried His precious body in Joseph’s new tomb. But, thank God,
Death could not keep its prey,
He tore the bars away.
And so we come to the last point of this declaration of the gospel: “He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” The resurrection of Christ was the Father’s expression of satisfaction in the work His Son so blessedly accomplished on the cross, when He gave Himself a ransom for our sins. The sin question settled, God raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the highest glory, exalted to be a Prince and a Savior.
We need to remember that apart from His physical resurrection there was no proof that God had accepted His work as an atonement for our sins. But having been delivered up to death for our offences, He has been raised again for our justification. Some prefer to render this, “Because of our justification.” His death so fully met all the righteous claims of God’s throne against our sins that now God has declared, by bringing Him back from the dead, that there is no longer a barrier to our complete justification.
The physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is fundamental. There is no room for human theories here. It is not merely a question of survival after death. It will not do to say, as one has done, that “the body of Jesus sleeps in a Syrian tomb, but His soul goes marching on.” This is to deny His resurrection altogether. His soul was never dead. His body died, and it was His body that was raised again.
Note that the resurrection of Christ is ascribed to each Person of the Trinity. All had part in that glorious work. The Lord Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…He spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21). He was “raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4; see also Heb. 13:20). And His resurrection is attributed to the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11). There is no contradiction. All is blessed harmony. The entire Godhead was concerned in the resurrection.
And His resurrection, as His death, was also according to the Scriptures. In Leviticus 23 we see this pictured in the Feast of the Firstfruits on the morrow after the Passover Sabbath. In Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:10 we see that for Him the path of life lay through death, but that after death He was to see His seed and prolong His days. In Psalm 110 we see Him as the Risen One taking His seat at God’s right hand in heaven.
We have the witnesses to the resurrection in verses 5-8. God would give positive testimony regarding this great fact to those who are appointed to go out and proclaim the message of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ throughout the world.
His many visible appearances to so large a number of reputable witnesses, the fact that His dead body could never be located anywhere, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power, and the confident assurance and new bravery of His apostles, together with the way God set His seal upon their ministry in miracles of healing and the salvation of thousands, all alike proved that Jesus had vanquished death and come forth from Joseph’s new rock-hewn tomb to die no more. That tomb is still empty and ever shall be. The body that once lay in that inner crypt, enswathed in the linen cloths, came out of its cerements like a butterly leaving the chrysalis shell when God’s appointed hour had struck (John 20:4-8).
It was not simply the survival of the spirit after the death of the body, for although that might prove immortality, it would not be resurrection. What Scripture plainly declares is that
the body that hung on the cross is the body that was raised from the grave. It still bore the print of the nails and the wound in the side (John 20:27). Long years afterward, John the beloved saw in the midst of the throne “a Lamb as it had been slain.” The marks of His passion will be upon His body forever (Rev. 5:6).
Thy wounds, Thy wounds, Lord Jesus,
Those deep, dark wounds, they tell
The sacrifice that frees us
From sin and death and hell.
They bound Thee once forever
To all who own Thy grace;
No power those bonds shall sever,
No time those scars efface.
And He has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” He is “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). His literal bodily resurrection is the pledge that eventually “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” (John 5:28-29), some to life eternal, and others, alas, to everlasting woe.
It is true that a great change had come over His body in resurrection. He could enter a room when all doors were locked. He could appear and disappear at will. And so we are told in regard to ourselves that what is sown in burial is not the body that shall be (1 Cor. 15:36-38). Nevertheless, there is positive identity.
“It is sown …
it is raised” (1 Cor. 15:43-44).
The body that died will live again, but under altogether new and wonderful conditions.
Paul speaks of himself as having seen the risen Lord, and as one born out of due time. We are apt to think that this means that he was born much later than others, but the word he uses precludes any such thought. It really means, one born
before the time. He is thinking of that glorious day when the risen, glorified Christ is to appear on earth once more, and His people Israel will look upon Him whom they have pierced, and as they recognize Him as their Lord and Savior the nation will be born in a day. Paul had known that experience already. He first saw Christ in resurrection and, receiving Him as Savior, became one of the new creation company.
He could never forget that he had once been an opponent of Christ and a persecutor of His church. He felt that he was not fit to be called an apostle because of this, and yet he could rejoice in the infinite grace that had made him what he was—the messenger of that same Christ, whom he had once hated, to the Gentile world. As he went from country to country and from people to people, making known this glorious gospel, God wrought in him in a mighty way, so that he could say in all humility, “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” However, he would not stress the work of the servant, but rather the message that the servant carried to men. Whoever the preacher might have been, when people believed the message they were saved.
Let me remind you again that apart from His bodily resurrection we could have no proof that God had accepted His propitiatory work, but that the way into the holiest was now opened up for all who would draw nigh, trusting His precious blood as the only ground of redemption. In this great resurrection chapter the inspired writer insists on the absolute necessity of Christ’s rising again in order that there might be validity to His death as an atonement for sin. “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
It is useless to laud Jesus as a teacher while denying His bodily resurrection. He Himself predicted it. He declared that He must be rejected and go into death and rise from the dead the third day. His disciples could not understand it at the time, but that empty tomb and the subsequent appearance of their Lord in His resurrection body made all clear. Then they remembered His words. And after His ascension to heaven in that same body, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, they went everywhere declaring His resurrection from the dead. Apart from this they would have had no gospel to preach, and apart from this there is no message for sin-laden, condemned humanity today. The proclamation that has brought life and blessing to untold millions through all the Christian centuries is that embodied in Romans 10:9-10: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Believe what? Confess what? That He who died for our sins has been raised again for our justification, and now sits enthroned at God’s right hand in His literal, glorified body, exalted to be a Prince and a Savior. This is the basis of all gospel testimony and the only sure foundation upon which our salvation rests.
He has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” We rest upon His Word and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Christ’s Resurrection, The Pledge Of Ours
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
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. (vv. 12-20)
In these verses the Holy Spirit develops for us and vigorously defends one of the great fundamental truths of Christian testimony. As we have noticed already, there were some in the Corinthian assembly who were raising questions as to the bodily resurrection of the saints. I do not suppose that they thought for one moment that people cease to exist when they die. One can hardly think of any real Christian believing that, but they doubtless thought, being influenced largely by the pagan philosophies with which they were familiar before their conversion, that the spirit lived on in another world, but as far as the body was concerned, when death came and it was laid away in the tomb, that was the end of it. They never expected to meet their loved ones again in physical form or to take again a material body. The apostle meets that as a definite error and shows what serious consequences such a view would necessarily involve. He asks, “If Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” This is the very foundation of Christianity. Everywhere the apostles went they preached Jesus and the resurrection. Our faith rests upon that.
The two great truths that Scripture teaches are that He was delivered up to death because of our sins, and that He was raised again as the token of God the Father’s satisfaction in the work that His Son accomplished. Thus as the risen One He ever lives, “to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” (Heb. 7:25). Some today have fallen into a similar error and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ never came out of the grave in His material body. They admit His existence in spirit, but deny His physical resurrection. But the great evidence that was given to the Christians of the earliest days that the Lord Jesus had actually settled the sin question, that redemption was completed, was the fact that He came out of the tomb in the very body that had gone into it, though changed in a most wonderful way. Nevertheless His was a real human body, and we know that it bore in the palms of the hands the print of the nails. There was still the mark where the Roman spear had pierced His side, and if I read my Bible correctly, I believe the raised body of the Lord Jesus will bear those marks for all eternity. In this it will differ from the bodies of all the saints.
I do not think there is any reason to believe that those who have been martyred for Christ’s sake will bear any evidence of suffering in their bodies; there will be no scar, neither spot nor blemish, nor any such thing. Our bodies will be absolutely perfect when raised and glorified. Why then should the body of our Lord Jesus bear those scars that speak of His sufferings and of His passion? Because these will be the visible evidences for all to contemplate throughout the ages to come that the very same Jesus who died for our sins upon the cross has been raised in the power of an endless life. The apostle John had a vision of heaven long years after the ascension of our Lord, and when he described the glorious central throne and other thrones surrounding it, he said, “I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the [living] ones, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). That is, the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ had upon it the evidences that He was the One who had once been slain, who had been sacrificed on Calvary for our redemption. One of our poets has written:
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
As redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.
Yes, He lives in heaven in the very body in which He once walked this earth, but that body is now changed and glorified. Christian testimony begins with this, and if one is seeking the way of life, if he inquires, “What must I do to be saved?” the answer comes in unmistakable clearness, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9 RV). Therefore, we have no right to think of any man as a Christian who denies the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.” What if Christ be not raised? Some say, “If He is living in heaven, is that not sufficient?” No! “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” If our Lord Jesus Christ did not come forth triumphant from that tomb, then we have no gospel to preach to lost men. If the body of Jesus still sleeps in the tomb, then you and I are absolutely hopeless, there is no salvation for us. The fact that He rose from the dead is the proof that the offering-up of Himself upon the cross satisfied the claims of divine righteousness, and met every requirement of infinite holiness. God Himself raised Him from the dead in token of His satisfaction in His work, and now sets Him forth a Prince and a Savior. This was the message the apostles preached.
Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified,” and that should be true of every one of us. But that was not all that he preached, for he preached Christ raised from the dead and Christ exalted to God’s right hand, for he says: “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.”
Somebody may ask, “Why do you say that if Christ be not risen there is no way of knowing that redemption is an accomplished fact?” You see, when our Lord was here on earth, He told His disciples that He was going to die. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). But He also told them, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). If that last statement of the Lord Jesus Christ has never been fulfilled, then He stands convicted of false testimony. He either was Himself deluded in thinking that He was the Savior, the Redeemer who was to die for sinners and rise again, or else He was a deliberate deceiver. It is His resurrection, the fulfillment of His own prediction, that proves that He was the sacrifice for sin which He proclaimed Himself to be. Thank God, that testimony is true. We saw previously how God gave abundant witness to the resurrection of His beloved Son, how more than five hundred saw Him after He rose from the dead, and we remember the statement made by Horace Bushnell, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely the best attested fact in ancient history.” You cannot think of any other incident in ancient history that has anything like the number of witnesses to its truth as we have to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My sins nailed Him to the cross. He, the sinless One, took my place and died under the judgment of God, but after the sin question was settled, after He had poured out His life, having died for us, three days were permitted to elapse to prove the reality of His death, then God brought Him back from the dead to declare His acceptance of the work of His Son. The resurrection is the testimony that God is satisfied and now can open His arms in love to every poor sinner in all the world and proclaim a full, free and eternal salvation for all who believe, through the work that His Son has accomplished.
“If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” The only way that I know that my sins are gone is because He who made Himself responsible for them, who died for them, now sits enthroned at God’s right hand, and there are no sins on Him there.
I have often tried to illustrate it thus: Let my two hands speak of two persons. Let my left hand speak of my blessed Lord Jesus Christ and my right hand speak of myself, a sinful man. My Bible has a red cover; we will let it speak of my crimson sins, of my scarlet guilt, and as this red-covered Book lies on this right hand, let it be a picture of myself with those crimson sins all resting upon my soul. What am I going to do about it? I cannot cleanse my own heart. “If I wash myself with snow water and make [myself] never so clean,” says Job, “yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me” (Job 9:30-31). I cannot cleanse my heart, I cannot put away my sins. But see, here is the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, illustrated by this left hand of mine. There is no scarlet Book resting upon that hand because He was the sinless One, He knew no sin of thought or word or deed, He was absolutely the Holy One. But in grace He went to that cross of shame and was nailed upon the tree on Calvary’s hill, and when He hung there, “Jehovah laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I transfer this red Book to the hand that represents Jesus. That crimson load that rested on me was transferred to Him when He hung on the cross, for then He was bearing the load of our sins. That explains the darkness that enwrapped His soul, the cry of anguish, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The Holy One who knew no sin,
God made Him sin for us;
The Saviour died our souls to win,
Upon the shameful cross.
Having borne sin’s judgment He descended to the grave and lay there for three days and three nights. During that interval no one in all the world knew whether His work was satisfactory, no one knew whether He had really settled the sin question. “We
said the troubled disciples, “‘that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel’” (Luke 24:21). They had no way of knowing whether it was true or not until, when the first day of the week came, He rose in triumph from the grave, and broke the bands of death asunder and now that hand, which represents Christ, has no red load upon it, for I have hidden that which stands for that load in this desk. There are no sins upon the risen Christ, for He has left them all behind in His open grave and has ascended to God’s right hand without them. The Irishman was right when he said, “What a wonderful salvation! If anybody will have to be kept out of heaven because of my sins, it will have to be Jesus; but, blessed be God, they cannot keep Him out, He is there already.” The resurrection is the proof that God is satisfied. I am not now in my sins, I know that Christ has put them all away, His resurrection tells me that since I have put my trust in Him I shall never again have to face that question.
The apostle concludes this section with these words, “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 Jesus has never been raised from the dead, then we are in a hopeless state, those who have trusted in Him are trusting in a bruised reed, we who are counting solely upon this risen Lord and upon the work He did have believed in vain. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men,” not exactly, “most miserable”—for I suppose there
are other very miserable men living for the Devil—but what he really says, I believe, is, “We are of all men most to be pitied,” for we have staked everything on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of our faith in Him we have given up the world and its pleasures and follies, we have become strangers and pilgrims in this scene, and now if there is no risen Christ, if this is all a mistake, we are going to lose both worlds. We gladly gave up this world because we thought we saw another above our heads, but that is only a dream, a fantasy, if Christ be not risen, and so “we are of all men most to be pitied.” The unconverted man can at least enjoy this present world, but the converted man says, “There is nothing here for my heart, it has been won by that One who has gone over yonder, and for His name’s sake I have surrendered the things that other men live for down here.” But what a blunder, what a mistake, if Christ be not risen! I am simply following a will-o’-th’-wisp that will land me at last in darkness and despair.
However, the apostle does not close this section with any such dreary suggestion. He says, “But now
is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” There is no question about it. We know that He who died has been raised again. He Himself said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again.” He was put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit. “The God of peace…brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). Christ
is risen, and His resurrection is the earnest of ours. He has become “the firstfruits of them that slept.” Every Israelite understood that figure. The days of planting and the days of cultivation had gone by, the summer was ending, the harvest days just beginning, and the Israelite went out in his field and saw a fast ripening sheaf. He plucked it and presented it to the Lord in the temple or at the tabernacle gate as the firstfruits, the earnest of the coming harvest, and by-and-by when a few more days or weeks had gone by, he went back to that field and the ripened grain was everywhere, but the great harvest was like the sheaf of the firstfruits, it was the same in character, and so our Lord Jesus is the firstfruits of resurrection, “the firstfruits of them that slept.” By-and-by will come the day when all His own will be called forth from the tombs. That will be the glorious harvest and in that day every other one will be like the firstfruits. We shall be like Him, our blessed, glorious Lord; we too shall have resurrection bodies, we too shall be forever triumphant over death, and throughout an eternity of bliss we shall glorify the One who has redeemed us to Himself.
The Pageant Of Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:21-28
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (vv. 21-28)
Following the apostle’s argument that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the basis of our hope for eternity, he makes it plain that this is not a debatable question, it is not something about which those professing the name of Christ may have different opinions. It is a fundamental fact, “Now
is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” He has come out of the grave as a sample of the great harvest which is yet coming forth from the tomb at His return.
“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” It was Adam as federal head of the race who plunged our entire humanity into death and judgment by his sin. But the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, has gone down into death; He has triumphed over it; He has robbed it of all its terror; and He has come forth a victor. And now through Him comes the resurrection of the dead, whether of course the resurrection of the righteous dead or the wicked dead, all shall come forth from the tomb through Him. The emphasis here is upon the fact that it is the Man Christ Jesus who calls the dead to life, and that is what we should expect, for God sets the one over against the other. The first man plunged the race into ruin, the Second Man brings redemption. In our emphasis upon the deity of the Lord Jesus we must never belittle or in any way lose sight of the perfection of His humanity. He is as truly Man as if He had never been God, and He is as truly God as if He had never become Man.
“There is…one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6); and it is the Son of Man whose voice shall eventually be heard by all the dead; first by the righteous dead, the saved dead, when He comes again to call His own to be with Himself, and then at last by the unsaved dead when they are summoned from the tomb to judgment, for Scripture knows nothing of a general resurrection. It distinctly teaches two resurrections. Our Lord speaks of those who shall be rewarded in “the resurrection of the just,” and we read that there “shall be a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust.” The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “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.” That is the first resurrection. “They that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” That is the other one. In Revelation 20:6 we are told, “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.” “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:5).
In this chapter the apostle of course has specially in mind the resurrection of the righteous, because he began the chapter by saying, “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand.” And that gospel is that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures,” and He is coming again to complete the work that He began. So we read in verse 22, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The term, “in Adam,” included all who received their natural life from Adam. As we have pointed out, he was the head of a race and we are all his children by natural birth. Every person in the world is in Adam by natural birth, and over all of Adam’s race hangs the death sentence. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Just as the term, “in Adam,” takes in an entire race, so the term, “in Christ,” takes in a race, but naturally a narrower, a smaller, group than is included “in Adam,” for we are all in Adam by nature, but only a limited number are in Christ by grace.
In speaking of some relatives of his Paul calls them his “kinsmen who also were in Christ before me.” They may not have been in Adam before him; I do not know whether they were older than he; but he says they were “in Christ” before he was. I often wonder if that was not one reason why Paul had that remarkable experience on the Damascus turnpike. They had probably been praying for him, and in answer to their prayers God broke him down and saved him. We are “in Christ” only through a second birth, through becoming members of a new creation. Just as we receive our natural life from Adam we received divine life from the risen glorified Christ, and we are then said to be “in Christ.” And so it is the resurrection of the just that Paul has in view.
“In Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order.” The word
order was a military term in those days, and was used to describe the different companies of soldiers. We would say, “Every one after his own cohort.” “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” When He returns, when He descends in glory to the upper air, He will give that quickening shout of which we read both in the latter part of this chapter and in 1 Thessalonians 4: “And the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (vv. 16-17).
“Then cometh the end.” I do not know that we need that italicized word,
cometh, for that does not represent anything in the original. It is, “Then the end.” “They that are Christ’s at his coming…Then the end,” when the resurrection will be completed, when the glorious kingdom reign of our Lord Jesus will have come to an end, “when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is now sitting at the Father’s right hand until this earth shall be made His footstool, and when He descends, He will take the kingdom and will reign for a thousand wonderful years. He will bring in that age when righteousness shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD” (Hab. 2:14). During the thousand years the Lord will exercise righteous government and righteous judgment in this scene. It comes to a close with the passing away of the material universe as we know it.
Then comes the day of judgment, when the wicked, raised from their graves, will appear at the Great White Throne and sentence be given according to their works. When the mediatorial kingdom is ended all will be handed back to the Father, that God may be all in all. Christ may be likened to the receiver of this world. Suppose a business in San Francisco is owned by a firm of three persons in New York City. They send a manager out to take charge of the business, but this manager proves to be dishonest and incompetent, and the business is in inextricable difficulties. One member says, “You allow me to go out there and act as receiver, and I will try to straighten everything up and put the business on its feet.” He goes out there, takes charge of everything, goes over all the books, and finds out where the crookedness has been. It may take him months, perhaps years, before he straightens things out, but after everything is cleared, every bill paid, and there are no longer any liabilities, he goes back to New York, presents his account, and hands it all back to the firm. Does he cease to have an interest in it? No, for he is a member of the firm; but the firm takes complete charge and he no longer exercises administration mediatorially. This universe was put under the dominion of Adam. God created him in innocence and put him in charge, and said to him, “I have given you authority over it all.” But through his being deceived by Satan, through incompetency and dishonesty, the whole thing was thrown into turmoil. And so our blessed Lord Jesus, one of the Eternal Trinity, is coming back to this world and will take charge of things, and when everything has been subjected to God and all the wicked and utterly impenitent have been dealt with, He will hand it back to the Father that God may be all in all. Shall we lose our Savior then? No, He will remain the same blessed, loving Jesus that He has ever been since His incarnation, but the kingdom will be delivered up to the Father, and God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) will maintain it in righteousness for all eternity.
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Death will hold within its grasp all the wicked dead up to the end of the millennium, but God will not permit that condition to last forever. Death will be destroyed. Satan himself will be banished to the lake of fire, and the wicked will share his doom because they refused God’s grace. When the Lord Jesus has thus put all things under the feet of God the Father, He Himself voluntarily occupies the place of the Father’s beloved Son and the Servant of the redeemed. He will serve us through all the ages to come, for love delights to wait upon the objects of its affection.
There is a beautiful picture in the Old Testament. We read when a man who had been sold into slavery fulfilled his time, he could go out free. If his master had given him a wife, the wife and children would remain in bondage but he could go free. But if that servant should say, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go free,” then they were to put him through a peculiar ceremony. They were to place his ear against the door and pierce it through with an awl, and he would then serve his master forever. What a striking picture that is of the place our blessed Lord Jesus has taken voluntarily in order to be identified with us for eternity! He came into this world as the servant, He took a servant’s place, and having completed His service He could have gone back free at any time to the Father’s house, but He chose not to do so. There were those down here upon whom His love was set, “Christ…loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25), and so we can think of Him saying to the Father, “I love my Master, my bride, my children; I will not go out free.” And so He could say, “Mine ear hast thou bored.” He bears the mark of eternal subjection because of His love to us. I have often pictured that Hebrew servant sitting in his little cabin home on his master’s plantation. Mother is getting the meal and the children are playing about. One little tot climbs up on his knee and says, “Father, what is that ugly hole in your ear? I do not like that.” And I think the wife hears it and says, “Oh, my darling, don’t speak that way; to me that is the most beautiful thing about your father. We were in bondage and he could have gone out free and left us behind, but he wouldn’t do it. He loved me and gave himself for me; he loved you, my dear children, and because of his love for us he chose to remain a perpetual servant. That mark tells of his undying love.” So will it be with our blessed Lord Jesus, the subject One for all eternity, and as we look upon those wounds which will never be effaced, we shall say, “There we have the evidence of His unchanging love.” What a Savior!
“Man of sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing,
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
We shall be the joy of His heart and He the joy of ours for an eternity of bliss. And mark how everything hangs upon the cross. That is why we delight to look back and remember His suffering there for us. Others may think of His beauty as a lowly Nazarene, or of His glorious transfiguration upon the mount, but to every redeemed soul He looks most beautiful as we think of Him wearing His crown of thorns, bleeding, suffering, dying for us.
Baptized For The Dead
1 Corinthians 15:29-34
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink: for tomorrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. (vv. 29-34)
The outstanding expression in this particular portion found nowhere else in Scripture is “baptized for the dead.” Exactly what does it mean? Down through the centuries a number of different interpretations have been suggested. One of the most common among orthodox believers is that we are to understand by the expression, “baptized for the dead,” that we as Christians are baptized for or in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ who died. He died, went down into death, and we have been identified with Him, and in our baptism we confess our death with Him, therefore, “baptized for the dead” really means, “bap- tized for Christ who died.” Certainly that interpretation is not repugnant to Christian consciences. It is absolutely true that intelligent believers are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, for that, in fact, is the exact meaning of the ordinance of baptism. But is this what is meant here?
In baptism we confess that we were sinners, that we deserved to die, that our Lord Jesus Christ died in our room and stead, and now we are saying, as it were, before the world, before all men, “I take my place with the Christ who died; I desire henceforth to be recognized as one identified with Him in His death, in His burial, and in His resurrection.” Looked at in this way the ordinance is wonderfully precious. I never can understand the state of soul of Christian men who would try in any way to belittle or set aside Christian baptism. I know many precious souls have been brought to Christ simply by witnessing the carrying out of this ordinance. There is something so solemn about it as it definitely sets before us Christ’s death on our behalf and our identification with Him, that it cannot but speak to every one who has ears to hear. So I fully accept that view, but do not believe that it explains the expression in the text, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all.”
Another suggested explanation that has found favor with many is that baptism for the dead means that we ourselves who are baptized confess that we are dead, that we have died with Christ, and that therefore our baptism is one for or of the dead as taking that place, although in this world we no longer belong to the world. We have died, and we bury the dead, and so we are buried because we have died to the old life. Undoubtedly baptism teaches that. We who were once living unto the world, we who were once living to the flesh, have now, in the cross of Christ, died to all that; as having died, the ordinance of baptism speaks of a burial. We are through with the old life. But I do not think that explains the expression in the text.
From the very earliest days there has been another suggested explanation, a rather grotesque one. It has been taken up in our own day and spread abroad as though it were the very gospel of God, by those commonly known as “‘Latter-day Saints,” or Mormons. Personally, I belong to the Former Day saints, I am not interested in any “Latter-day Saints” movement. It is my joy to be linked with the saints of all ages unto whom Christ Jesus has been made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. But the view held by these Mormons and a few others is that the apostle means that baptism in itself is a saving ordinance, that apart from it none will ever be saved, and since a great many have died without having the opportunity of being baptized, somebody else must be baptized for them if they are going to be saved. And so they say that the apostle is referring to living Christians being baptized vicariously on behalf of people who have died unbaptized. This is a very common thing among the so-called “Latter-day Saints.” In fact, they have many temples in which they carry out the ceremony of baptism for the dead, and people are urged to be baptized, some over and over and over again, for dead people who were never baptized in this life.
When in Salt Lake City some years ago, a young Mormon elder told me he believed that the members of the Mormon church were saving more souls through being baptized for the dead than Jesus Christ ever saved through dying on Calvary’s cross. He mentioned a very wealthy lady who had come out from the East a good many years ago and had been baptized in Salt Lake City over thirty thousand times. Every time she was baptized she paid a sum of money into the church, so you can see that baptism for the dead is rather a good thing from the financial standpoint. She was using her entire fortune redeeming people from death and destruction through being baptized for the dead! She had been baptized for all the friends and relatives about whom she knew anything at all who had died, and then she had gone into history and literature and sought out thousands of names and had been baptized for every one of them. She had been baptized for Alexander the Great, for Nebuchadnezzar, for Julius Caesar, for Napoleon Bonaparte, for Cleopatra, and thousands of other historical characters, in order that she might be the means of their salvation; and it was concerning this lady especially that this youthful elder said to me with a very solemn face, “I believe in the day of judgment it will be proven that this lady through being baptized for the dead has saved more souls than Jesus Christ!” That blasphemous theory finds no place whatever in the Word of God. In the first place the Word of God never teaches that baptism is essential to salvation. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that if people die unbaptized, they are lost.
It is quite true that it is perfectly right and proper that people who are saved should be baptized, and we find this ordinance linked with faith because it is the confession of the faith that we have. But when Scripture says, for instance, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” it never adds, “He that is not baptized shall be damned,” but, “He that
believeth not shall be damned.” We have the remarkable example of the first soul ever saved after Christ was nailed to the cross, the thief who hung there beside Him, who was saved that day without any possibility of being baptized. With hands and feet nailed to the tree he could do nothing, he could not carry out any ordinance or do anything by which to earn salvation, but he was saved alone by the finished work of the One who hung on the central cross. And every man who is ever saved will be saved through what Jesus did when He died on that tree. So we put away the Mormon conception. There is a fourth view which certain Christians have held throughout the centuries, and that is that some of these Corinthians imagined that baptism was essential to salvation and therefore were being baptized vicariously for others who had died in heathenism, and so the apostle refers to it without saying whether it is true or not. But we can be sure that Paul would not refer to it in the way he does without telling them that it was contrary to the mind of God that living people should be baptized for the benefit of dead people.
I have spoken of four suggested interpretations of these words, and I come now to what I believe is the exact meaning of the text. First, let me say that the expression, “Baptized for the dead,” means literally in the Greek text, “Baptized in place of, or over, the dead ones, or those who have died.” The word
dead is in the plural, it is not a singular noun; therefore it cannot refer to the Lord Jesus Christ; it is not, “Baptized
because of Christ.” Neither the preposition nor the noun will permit of that interpretation, but the actual rendering would have to be, “Baptized in place of dead ones.” It is not, “baptized on behalf, or for the benefit, of dead ones.” The preposition does not suggest that. In the earlier part of the chapter the apostle reproves those who denied the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and says, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (v. 17). Everything for a believer depends upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was delivered up to death for our offenses, He was raised again for our justification, and if He be not raised, manifestly redemption has never been accomplished, the sin question has never been settled, they who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished, they have found that their profession has gone for nought, for there is no redemption if Christ be not raised, and it naturally follows that if that be the case, we are making a tremendous mistake for, “If the dead be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins,” and therefore Christ is powerless to save. Think of the millions of people who have been willing to stake everything for eternity upon this Christ who cannot save if the dead rise not, but if Christ be not risen, they have blundered terribly. We might better go on and enjoy this world, for death ends all if that theory be true.
Verses 20-28 form a parenthesis in which the apostle turns aside from his argument to give us an outline concerning the pageant of the resurrection, and then goes on and develops it. You will find that in verse 29 he picks up the thread of the argument again from verse 19, saying, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most [to be pitied]….Else what shall they do which are baptized [in place of] the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” This may be translated, “What shall they do which are baptized in the place of the dead ones if no dead ever rise? Why are they then baptized in the place of the dead ones?” Do you not see that the argument is clear and luminous? Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished if Christ has not been raised again, and yet every day other people are being baptized in their places, others are professing faith in Christ, others are availing themselves of the ordinance of baptism, they are filling up the places made vacant on earth by those who have died professing Christ. But if Christ be not risen, then those who have died are lost, they have gained nothing by their profession. Why then should we go on filling up the ranks all down the centuries and putting other people in the place of danger if there is nothing to be gained by it? This is a military figure. A regiment of soldiers goes into battle, and after the battle is over they count the men and find perhaps that seventy-five have been slain. Immediately they begin to recruit others in place of the dead, not to do the dead any good, but to take their places. Seventy-five other men are drawn into that regiment, are recruited in place of the dead, they don the uniform and go forth to take part in other conflicts. But if they are fighting a losing battle, if there is no possibility of ever winning, if they are just wasting their lives, why are they then recruited for the dead? What is the use of their taking the places of those who have died? It is the height of folly if they know there is nothing but certain defeat and destruction awaiting them.
Think of Christian people as a mighty army. Down through the centuries, for nineteen hundred years, the church has been in conflict with the powers of sin and death and hell, and throughout the ages one generation of Christians has fallen and another has taken its place, and the public way of manifesting the fact that they have thus enlisted in the army of the Lord is through baptism. But what a foolish thing if Christ be not risen and if the dead rise not! What are they gaining by being baptized in place of the dead? Would it not have been better to have wound up the history of Christianity in the first centuries and said, “The whole movement is a failure, there is no risen Christ, there is no possibility for salvation here in this life”? A man may accept the philosophy of Christianity and keep it to himself. Possibly his neighbors would never suspect his belief and he would not be subject to martyrdom, but if he really believes in the Lord Jesus Christ he says, “I must make it known,” and the right way is through baptism, through confessing Christ in that way as the One who died and rose again. The moment a man was baptized in Paul’s day, and many centuries afterward, he put himself in the way of possible martyrdom. His neighbors said, “That man is a Christian.” “How do you know?” “He has been baptized, confessing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was risking his life every hour, for there were enemies of Christianity on every hand. But if Christ be not risen, why should he, why should I and my fellow laborers stand in the place of jeopardy? Paul says, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” I am putting myself in the place of death every day, I am exposed to death, and I am ready to die for Jesus Christ. Paul knew He had risen for he had seen Him in the glory as He appeared to him that day when he fell stricken on the Damascus road, and Paul became the outstanding defender of Christianity. He says, “I am set for the defence of the gospel,” and for the name of Christ he took his life in his hands and died daily.
“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” What does Paul mean? He is referring to that time when he was almost torn asunder by beast-like men in that riot at Ephesus. He saw that angry mob pressing upon him as they shouted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28) and he thought of that great throng ready to destroy him, and likened them unto beasts. But, he says, it is all right no matter what they do to me, Christ is real for He is risen again, and I know Him as the risen One and am ready to die for His name’s sake. “But what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?” Why should I live like this, why should any Christian give up the world and live a life of self-denial and devotion to the One whom this world has rejected, if the dead rise not? Why not accept the philosophy of the worldling? In Isaiah 22:12-13 God reproves the careless worldlings, “And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.” They did not respond to His call and humble themselves before Him, but went on in the ways of the world. “Eat and drink: for tomorrow we shall die.” Here are the words from which the apostle quotes. If Christ has not been raised, if there is no reality in Christianity, then get all the enjoyment out of the world that you can. The worldling says, “Let’s have a good time while we live, for we are going to be a long time dead.” If death ends everything, why not go on and get what you can out of this life? But there is a better world beyond the grave, there is a Savior who died to put away our sins and who lives triumphant in glory waiting to receive to Himself those who trust Him. So we say, “You can have your feasts, your fame, your frivolity, your wealth, Christ is more to me than all of these.” The Christian, you see, is a man who has heard the drumbeat of another country and so does not keep step with the drumbeat of this world.
“Be not deceived,” says the apostle, “evil communications corrupt good manners.” People say, “It does not make any difference whether Jesus died and rose; we can be just as good without this assurance.” But when they deny the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, you find that they will throw the reins upon their lusts and live for the world and please themselves. So to us the word comes home, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not.” You are linked with a risen Christ and you are in this world to glorify Him. Let that risen One control your heart and life, and yours will be a holy life devoted to the glory of God. “Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”
A number of years ago I was at the burial of an aged saint. For a great many years he had been a bright witness for Christ in the part of the city where he lived and had brought up his family in the fear of God. One of his children was a missionary in the Philippine Islands. He had grandchildren who attended the church services, but had not as yet confessed the Lord. As I closed the funeral service and we were about to take our last look at that face until the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering unto Him, I felt led to step to the casket and say, “Just wait a minute before we take our farewell look at the face of our beloved brother. He has been a witness for Christ in this city for many years, his place will not easily be filled, he will be greatly missed by Christians. I wonder whether anyone at this funeral service would like by the grace of God to seek to prepare to take his place. Is there anybody here who has heard the voice of God speaking to you and perhaps you have never yet come to Christ, but right here you will close with the Lord, you will take Him as your Savior and be ready to be baptized for the dead? This one has gone, there is a vacant place in the ranks; will you take his place?” I waited a moment, and then a fine, tall, young man, his grandson, arose from his seat and came forward. He faced the audience and said, “Today I accept my grandfather’s Savior, and I want you to pray that I may be able in some measure to take his place”; and then he knelt at that casket and gave himself to the Lord, and the next Sunday night I baptized him for the dead. It is simply the filling up of the ranks, taking the places of those who have gone before. Christian baptism always emphasizes that it is a public testimony, a testimony that one has turned from the world, trusted Christ, and will now seek to live for His glory. And so one generation has been baptized for the dead of the past generation, and that one for the past, and so on, clear back to the very beginning of Christianity.