"Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believeth thou this?" (John xi. 23-26)
Death and resurrection have two meanings which are quite distinct from each other. When death is spoken of in relation to the material body, it means its dissolution and return to the elements which composed it. When it refers to the soul, it means the perversion of all a personís spiritual faculties, by which they become the embodiment of error and sin. It is called the "second death," and is the condition of all who have not been born from above, and made alive by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection is also of two kinds - the resurrection of a person from their material body, and the resurrection of the soul from spiritual death, which is also called the "first resurrection, " because it is first in time, but more especially because it is first in importance. All are raised up from the material body, but only those who become regenerate will be the subjects of the first resurrection. In the present chapter I propose to speak only of the resurrection of a person from their material body.
The spiritual world, as we saw in the last chapter, is a substantial world in the generally accepted meaning of the word, and is to be our eternal home. We must, therefore, pass into it. This transition has two aspects and two names, according to the point of view from which it is regarded. When viewed from this world, it is called death; when from the spiritual world, it is called resurrection. If we identify a person with their material body, it is death; if with their soul, it is resurrection. Death and resurrection are two sides of the same event.
The subject, as will be readily seen, has a most important bearing upon the Second Coming. If the Judgment is to take place in the spiritual world, those upon whom it is to be executed must be in that world. It is also intimately related to the increased effect of the Divine power upon the human race, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth which is to follow and to be effected by the Second Coming. It is one link in the chain of causes and effects by which the Lord will work out His purposes of good to us. It is essential to our reasoning and to our conclusions, therefore, that it should be established by the testimony of the Lord in His Word, and in His works, and by the clearest rational considerations.
I am to speak of peoplesí resurrection. As we identify a person sometimes with their material body and sometimes with their soul, it is essential to a clear understanding of the subject that we get the question distinctly before us. Here I mean the spiritual part of our nature. The spirit is the subject and theatre of all the distinctly human qualities and activities. I mean, also, a human being in the human form, possessing all the faculties which distinguish them from all other created beings or things, and possessing a consciousness of his individuality. I do not mean a vital force, or a formless essence. They do not constitute a person. A person must be in the human form. If that form becomes dissipated the person is lost. If a spirit has not the human form it is not a human being. When an animal dies and turns to dust it ceases to exist as an animal. The dust is not the animal. When a tree is consumed in the fire, the ashes and the gases which composed its organic forms are not the tree. Special form and organization are essential qualities of a tree. Consequently, when these are lost the tree is lost. So it is with human beings. A formless essence or a spirit-force is not a person, because it lacks all the essential human qualities and forms. Neither is the material body the person. It has the form but it lacks the qualities; the power of feeling, thinking, acting of itself. The material body viewed by itself is no more a person than a mummy or a marble statue is a person. By a person, then, we mean a spiritual being in the human form, capable of love, thought, reason, self-consciousness, intellectual progress, and all the functions of a human being.
The next point which needs to be clearly defined is, what we mean by resurrection. It is evident that we do not mean the collecting together. reorganization, and vivification of the elements which once composed a personís material body; for if that were done it would not be a resurrection of the person. We do not mean a return of any vital and formless force - whatever it may be - into the material body. That would not be a resurrection of a person, if by a person we mean a spiritual being, but their reclothing with a material body. We mean something very different from these acts. We mean the withdrawal of the person themselves from the material body; the putting off of the garment of flesh. That is the personís resurrection. It is getting out of the material body rather than getting into it; it is permitting the body to return to dust rather than collecting the dust together and forming a new body; it is leaving this world and going into the spiritual world, rather than leaving the spiritual world and coming back into this. By the resurrection of a person, then, who is a spiritual being in the human form, we mean the raising out of material conditions by withdrawal from the material body. Having ascertained the exact point we are endeavoring to establish, let us see what evidence we have that it is true.
1. First let us see what. testimony the Lord gives us in His created Word, the material world. It will not require much examination to discover that precisely this process, in principle, is going on all around us, and that the more complex and excellent things and beings reach the highest state of their existence by successive steps, each one of which is a resurrection of a form which lay enfolded in a lower one, and was clothed by it in the same way that people are invested with a material body. We see this process in the growth of a plant. The stalk is raised up out of the seed; the leaf is raised up from the stem; so are the blossom and the fruit. When we come to the animal kingdom we find these steps more clearly defined. Take, for example, a beautiful moth or butterfly. It is first an egg. In that is formed a worm, which in due time is raised out of it, and which passes through a certain cycle of life. In the worm is found a winged creature, which in due time is raised up out of it into a new world of light and joy. The bird attains the maximum of its powers, and completes the cycle of its life in the same way, though it does not pass through so many stages. It is first an egg. We may say that it is born into this world in the form of an egg, which contains the elements out of which its organization is to be created, and which is its first rude body. When its organization is complete it is raised up out of it into its heaven, where it is to find its home and to attain the complete end or full purpose of its existence.
The same process, in principle, and nearly in form, takes place in the creation of every animal. Its birth into this world is a resurrection from a previous state, which takes place when its organization is sufficiently perfected to enable it to live in the world, and to perform the functions for which it was created.
Now, here we find the regular and universal method of the Divine wisdom in creating plants, insects, birds, and animals, and human beings, also, so far as regards their life in this world. The Lord does not create an insect or an animal or a human being directly and immediately without any agency of intermediate steps. In every instance He begins in the lowest plant and rises from that, and every step is a resurrection of a form from another form within which it was organized. As far as we can see, this is the universal method of the Divine order. Are we not justified in believing that if an animal or a person is to take another distinct step in existence, that it will do it in the same way? Would it not be absurd to suppose that this universal law was departed from as soon as the theatre of action passed beyond our material senses? Such a supposition would be the height of absurdity, unless we could find some positive evidence of its necessity. Every living creature gains the perfection of its organization and the maximum of its power by successive resurrections. People are no exception to this law, so far as we can follow their progress by our observation. If they are to go any farther, shall they not take the next step according to the same law that they have taken the previous ones? If they do not, there is no logic in the creation, no universal law of Divine action.
There is another view of the teachings of the Lord in nature upon this subject which is worthy of notice, on account of its bearing upon the commonly-received doctrine of the resurrection, which is that our resurrection is the reorganization of our material body, and its revivification by the soul. No such process as this can be found in the creation. No creature ever goes back and reassumes its former condition. The insect never becomes a worm again. The oak never divests itself of its mighty arms and shrivels its knotty trunk, and gathers the dispersed elements together and becomes an acorn. The sparrow never folds its wings and crawls back into the shell from which it was raised up. If a person returns to their material body, they are an anomaly, and an exception to all that the Lord teaches us in His works. There is not a hint in the whole creation that a material body of any kind, once cast off and dissipated, is ever reorganized and reinhabited by the life which created it.
2. Let us now examine the testimony of the Lord in his Word. Let us approach it reverently, not with any desire to wrest it into conformity with any theory, but to learn what the Lord truly teaches upon a subject so vital to human happiness.
The Old Testament is almost wholly silent about it. The first passage to which I will call your attention, and, I believe, the first one in which the subject is alluded to, is found in the 19th chapter of Job, and is as follows: "For I know my Redeemer liveth, and He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." Now, supposing this to be a correct translation of the original, it is not very clear and direct testimony upon the subject, especially when the character and purpose of the Book of Job is taken into account, about which there is much difference of opinion among the best biblical scholars. But if you will turn to your Bibles, you will find in the marginal notes an entirely different version of the original. It is this: "After I shall awake, though this body be destroyed, yet out of my flesh shall I see God." This entirely reverses the testimony, and declares his belief that though his body be destroyed, the person will preserve the personality of their existence, and "see God." The statement is directly in favor of the point, that we rise out of the material body as a person in the human form, and preserve the continuity of our being. There are great difficulties, however, in the translation of this passage in Job, and the most learned biblical scholars differ in opinion about its meaning. The general conclusion seems to be that there is no reference to the resurrection of the dead. If there is, Job contradicted himself, for he says (vii. 9): "As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more." The most probable opinion is that he simply expresses his belief that the Lord would redeem him from his afflictions, and that he should see Him in the latter end of his life. And he declares (xlii. 5) that he did see Him: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear but now mine eye seeth Thee."
The next passage in which the subject is alluded to is the following, in the 26th chapter of Isaiah "Thy dead shall live. My dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead. It is evident from the whole chapter that no allusion is made to a general resurrection of dead bodies, because in a preceding verse it is said, "O Lord our God, other lords besides Thee have had dominion over us. . . . They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise therefore Thou hast visited and destroyed them, and made their memory to perish. Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord, thou hast increased the nation." Dying and rising here refers naturally to the Jewish people, but spiritually to the Church, which is said to be dead when devoid of spiritual life, and to be raised up from death when its members begin to live a spiritual life. When regarded in this light, the words state an immutable law of the Divine Order. The other lords who are dead and will not rise are not the "Lord our God." They are evil and false principles. But it is, said, "Thy dead shall live." Thy refers to the Lord, and His dead are those who have died to sin, and are alive to righteousness.
The passage in Daniel which has been quoted to prove the resurrection of the body has the same meaning, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." These words cannot refer to a general resurrection of the material bodies of men for it says, "many of them," limiting the number, and showing that in some way a selection is to be made. If this refers to the national life of the Jews, or to the life of the Church, its meaning is plain. There is a passage in Hosea which is adduced to prove the resurrection of the body: " I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction." The death here referred to is, without doubt, spiritual death, and in this sense it is a statement of a law of the Divine order. By death is meant the death of the soul; and it is that death from which the Lord redeems us. This is all that can be found in the Old Testament, so far as I know, which has even the appearance of favoring the doctrine of the resurrection of the material body, but which has, in fact, no reference to it whatever. There is much said about death and life, but it is the death and life of the soul, and not of the body.
If we examine the New Testament we shall find the same way of presenting the subject, and we shall come to the same conclusion. There was a difference of opinion among the Jews upon the subject. The Sadducees did not believe in any resurrection, the Pharisees did. But you will notice that when the question came up, our Lord always turned their attention away from a natural to a spiritual resurrection.
In his conversation with the Sadducees, He said, "As touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew xxii. 31, 32). He must refer to the human spiritual condition. It is often said that the Lord is not the God of the wicked; our God is the being or principle we worship. Those who do not obey the laws of the Lord, do not believe in Him: they are dead to all spiritual life. He is not their God. They do not acknowledge Him; they have chosen another god. Only those who are spiritually alive love Him and worship Him.
We see the same truth set forth, only more clearly, in His conversation with Martha. "Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." She evidently had in her mind the idea of a final resurrection, but whether of material bodies or not is of no consequence to our argument. Now, if that were the truth, why did not the Lord assent to it? But He did not: He corrected her, and turned her thought to the truth. "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." This cannot be true of the material body. This cannot be true of natural death, for the most devout believers die in that sense as certainly as the most wicked sinners. The Lord must refer to the resurrection of the soul from spiritual death.
Another declaration to the same effect is found in John (v. 28, 29), "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." If this declaration stood by itself, we might conclude that it was a direct assertion. of the resurrection of the material body. But in a preceding verse the Lord says, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." This cannot refer to any future resurrection of material bodies, for He says "the time now is." But if it means a resurrection from spiritual death, it is a plain and explicit statement of a fact.
So it is in every instance where the subject of the resurrection is referred to in the Gospels. There is something which renders it impossible to interpret it as teaching the resurrection of the material body. But if by death and resurrection are meant spiritual changes in the soul, the meaning is plain, and accords with the whole of Scripture and with all wt know of the Divine laws and methods.
The testimony of the apostles in their epistles to the Church is to the same effect, though not so clearly given as that of our Lord Himself. The testimony which is relied upon as the most conclusive for the resurrection of the material body is contained in the 15th chapter of Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians. His line of argument is this he first proves that our Lord rose from the dead, and on that fact bases the certainty of peoplesí resurrection. If this is not so, he says, then those who have fallen asleep have perished - that is, their existence has ceased. But it is evident that he does not mean by death, in this argument, the death of the material body, or, to say the least, he does not limit his meaning to that. "For," he says, ''as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." This death and this making alive cannot refer to the material body because people did not die physically in Adam, nor are they made physically alive by Christ. Physical death is not caused by sin. If people had never sinned they would have thrown off their material garment, and have passed on into the spiritual world. It is the soul that dies by sin, and the soul that is raised up from spiritual death. Therefore, Paul says, in the midst of this argument, "I die daily;" and another time he exclaims, when tormented by the conflicts between good and evil within him, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" What death? of the material body? No; he rather longed for that. It was the death of sin. He clearly distinguishes between the inward person, who was alive, and the outward person, who was active enough, but dead in sin. Again he says, " If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." He cannot mean the material body here.
Much confusion has been caused in relation to this whole question by assuming that death primarily relates to the material body, and that there is no other body. A careful examination of the subject in the whole of Scripture will show that neither of these assumptions are true. Death and the dead generally relate to a person as a spiritual being; and Paul himself declares that there is a spiritual body. To the objector who asks, "How are the dead raised up? and with what bodies do they come? he replies, Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. That which thou lowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be.Ö God gives to every seed his own body. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly is one, the glory of the earthly is another. So is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor;. it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." Now here he declares that the body sown is not the body raised, and he illustrates his meaning with a natural fact which is familiar to all. The seed we plant is never raised. Another body is raised out of it. Our Lord says the same thing: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit." Paul says there are various kinds of bodies. The natural body dies, the spiritual body rises.
This is precisely the doctrine of the New Church. The material body dies and turns to dust, and its substances become dissipated among the elements. This is the law of all growth, of all creation. There are no exceptions to it. It is never raised up again. But another body is raised out of it. Being, existence, implies organization. A spiritual being implies a spiritual body. It implies it as certainly before the resurrection as after it. The material body cannot think and feel, love and hate.
Here is a point which is worthy of a moment's consideration. Organization originates no power. It only manifests and directs it. The most accurately constructed machine will not move of itself. A plant has no power to grow of itself. Exclude heat and light from it and its growth is arrested. So it is with the material body. Sever its connection with the soul, and it has no more power of motion than the stone in the street. This is the universal law. It is also a universal law that the kind of life or force manifested will depend upon the kind of body used for the purpose. You cannot make a machine which can think and feel, love and understand. To do these things requires a spiritual body. A material organism can be moved by material forces, but it requires a spiritual organism to receive and communicate spiritual forces and qualities. There must, therefore, be a spiritual body within the material one, and entirely distinct from it, or we could exercise no spiritual qualities now. If this principle were carried out, it would show why we are clothed in a material body in this world, and why, in the nature of things, we cannot live in one in the spiritual world.
But let us see to what conclusions the testimony of the Lord in His Word lead us. I do not hesitate to say that, when all the passages which allude to the subject of death and resurrection are collated and combined, and their genuine meaning is learned, there is not a particle of evidence in the Bible that the material body will ever be raised up in any form or manner. There is no more evidence of it in the Lord's Word than there is in His works. Neither of them utter any word or give any hint that such a resurrection is possible.
But if there is any room for doubt from the peculiar manner in which the Scriptures speak upon the subject, there is another kind of testimony in the Sacred Scriptures which ought to be conclusive. They reveal to us the important fact that, although the resurrection of the material bodies has not taken place, human beings who once lived in this world are now living in the spiritual world; and, in one case at least, they have been identified as the very persons who were once men upon the earth. At the time of His transfiguration, Moses and Elias appeared in glory talking with the Lord of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. Here is a distinct declaration that two men who had been dead, in the common meaning of the word, for hundreds of years, were still living, as human beings, in the human form, for they could talk with the Lord. They had preserved their identity. Moses was Moses still, and Elias was Elias still. They were recognized by the Lord Himself, who could not be deceived upon the subject. The logical and only conclusion must be, if one person can live in the spiritual world and preserve his identity, everyone can.
But this is not the only instance. In the Revelation John testifies that he saw people from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation who had been redeemed, having harps and golden vials full of incense, singing a new song to the Lord for their redemption. Again, he says, " I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with s loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given to every one of them." Afterwards he saw s great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds, and people, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." John was asked by one of the elders who these people were who were arrayed in white robes, and whence came they. "And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said unto me, These are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. vii. 9).
Here is proof of our continued existence as human beings in the human form, before the resurrection, which is often demanded, and which, it is acknowledged, would be satisfactory. "If we could only get some trustworthy information concerning the condition of those who have passed behind the veil of flesh," it is often said, "it would dispel our doubts and quiet our fears, and convince us of the reality of s future existence." Here is the testimony demanded, testimony which all who believe the Bible to be the Word of God must accept. It is explicit and directly to the point.
These beings whom John saw were souls; but they were not ghosts, or formless essences, or abstract vital principles; they were in the human form; they had bodies; they had feet and stood upon them; they had hands and used them; they had heads, ears, and eyes, and vocal organs, for they could hear, and see, and converse with each other; they could sing and articulate words; wear garments, and perform all the functions and hold all the relations of human beings.
They also came from this world; they were those "who had been slain for the Word of God and the testimony which they held;" they were those who came out of great tribulation. They must, therefore, have come from this world. They were not isolated cases. There was "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues."
You cannot fail to see the bearing of these facts upon our argument.. They were not in their material bodies. Their bodies had died and turned to dust. And yet they had bodies; they were human beings in the human form, and they were in the spiritual world. Their bodies must, therefore, have been spiritual; they had preserved their identity; they knew what they had experienced in this world. They were the same beings who had lived in this world. If they had bodies adapted to all their wants in the spiritual world, why should they desire to be reclothed in a material garment? Would they be any more real, substantial, human? Certainly not. On the contrary, it would be bringing them back to the limitations of time and space.
I know it is supposed that the resurrection body will be vastly superior to the old one. But what evidence is there of the truth of this supposition ? None whatever. On the contrary, it can easily be shown that no better body can be made out of material substances than has been made. The nature of matter limits its excellence. And the nature of God demands that it should be the best that infinite wisdom and almighty power could frame out of the materials. Infinite love and wisdom must from its very nature do its best.
How absurd to suppose that the Lord gave people a poor, frail, imperfect body, subject to disease and pain and dissolution, when He could have made one which would be free from all these imperfections! How derogatory to the Lord's goodness is the supposition that He gave to the human race an organism full of defects, and which must soon wear out and become resolved into its original elements; and when they had been dispersed for thousands of years, that He should re-collect and organize them into another body, having none of the imperfections and possessing vastly greater excellencies than the first, and bring back the soul and introduce it into this new habitation! We may take either horn of the dilemma. If the Lord could make a better body out of material substances, why did He not do it at first? How could He subject us to all the ills which flesh is heir to: to feebleness, to wasting, to pain, to agony, to dissolution, when He could have saved us from all these sorrows? Would you excuse a tailor for making you a garment which would be a cause of discomfort; which would not protect you from cold and storm; and which would soon perish, on the ground that he or she would do better the next time you employed them? No. Their excuse itself would condemn them.
If the Lord cannot reconstruct a better material body out of the elements of the former one, why should He attempt it? What is there in the nature of a person as a spiritual being - what want of power, what lack of form, what imperfection of state - which demands their re-incarceration in the prison house of clay? None whatever. They are human: they are in the human form: they are free from the limitations of time and space and the weight of a material body, and they are in a world as much superior to this as mind is superior to matter. Such a change would be to a personís free, rejoicing spirit what it would be to the sparrow rejoicing in the freedom of flight and pouring forth its joy in song, to hush its voice, fold its wings, close its eyes to the light, and return to the narrow limits of its shell. If the proposition were made to that innumerable company whose earthly garments have turned to dust, and who have entered into the perfections of a conscious and distinct spiritual life, to come back to earth and take upon themselves a material body, it would silence every song in heaven, and fill the heart of every glorified spirit with consternation and despair. No, no, it cannot be. There is nothing in the nature of the earth; there is nothing in the nature of human beings; there is no principle in the Divine love and wisdom, or hint in its revelation to us, which demands such a reversal of all the Divine methods or renders it possible.
It is because of the inherent imperfections of a material world and of material substances that the Lord provided, from the beginning, that people should not be subject to its limitations forever. Matter is hard, cold, dead. It is a weight; it is a hindrance. The material world is too small for a single soul. We are
in it. The Lord created us for something purer, lovelier, and better adapted to the development of our spiritual faculties, the free play of heavenly affections, and the full fruition of immortal hopes, than a material world could ever be, if every man was a saint, every woman an angel, and every home a paradise.
From whatever point of view we regard the subject, whether from reason or Revelation, from the Divine methods of creating in the material universe. from the nature of human beings, and the perfections of the Lord, we see that resurrection from the material body, never again to be inhabited, is a law of the Divine order, a part of the plan of infinite love and wisdom, for the perfection and happiness of His children.
This resurrection takes place at the time of the death of the material body. It is the cause of its death. The material body never had any life of its own. The material eye never saw, the material ear never heard, the material hand never had any power of its own to move and feel. The material body never had any power to preserve its organization, even. Consequently, when we leave it, it returns to the ground whence it originated, and the person who has used it for a temporary purpose - for the same purpose that a seed uses the ground in which it is planted - rises out of it in a spiritual body, which had been formed in the material one, into a new world, which is to be his or her home forever, and in which they are to find the widest field for the development of all their faculties and the most excellent and ample means for the attainment of every good they are capable of receiving.
But everyone rises in the spiritual world the same being they were when they left this. They are no better and no worse. They gain no knowledge by the mere act of resurrection. The continuity of his existence is not broken; we preserve our self-consciousness and individuality. In that world all the human beings who have dwelt in this world and have passed away from it are gathered.
One by one, from all parts of the earth, they have taken their places and come under the power of those influences which will open the book of their life, reveal their true characters, and, by secret but irresistible currents of power, will carry them to their places. Here the Judgment must be held, and its inevitable decrees be carried into execution.