The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,
"Saying, Master, Moses said, I f a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
"Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
"Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
"And last of all the woman died also.
"Therefore in the resurrection, whose wife shall she be o f the seven? for they all had her.
"Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
" For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
"But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
"And when the multitude heard this, 'they were astonished at his doctrine.
Matthew 22: 23-33
The Pharisees had been defeated in their attempt to entangle the Lord in His talk, and had been silenced by the unexpected wisdom of His reply. The Sadducees now come forward to try the same thing in their way. They attempt to entrap Him with a question from the Scriptures. They quote to Him Moses, and He answers them from Moses. The Sadducees were not skeptics; they were literalists. They believed in the letter of the Scriptures, and they rejected everything that was not plainly deducible from it. They rejected the traditions. They did not believe in a future life, because they declared that it was not taught in their Scriptures. They prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures. They could quote texts to support every opinion they held. The law was the bond. They demanded no more, and would admit no less. It was the continent and limit of their thought.
To see the full force of their question and of our Lord's reply, we must keep in mind that the whole chapter relates to the kingdom of heaven and the conditions of entrance into it. Heaven is compared to a marriage. In other places the Lord calls Himself the Bridegroom and Husband, and the church His bride and wife. Entrance to heaven, then, is gained by that union with the Lord which is called marriage, and is represented by the marriage of husband and wife.
The Lord teaches us that man was created male and female; that when two are joined together in marriage they are not two, but one. He also prays that all who love and obey Him may be one with Him. The true relation' of the soul to the Lord is the true relation of a wife to her husband. The union between the soul and the Lord is marriage in the highest, truest sense. The union of two finite souls is marriage, just in the degree that it has within it that union between the soul and the Lord which constitutes heaven. The Sadducees knew nothing of this inner and essential nature of marriage. To them it was nothing more than a civil or natural relation. And with this conception of marriage the problem they proposed was indeed difficult of solution, if there is a life after this, and if there is marriage in heaven. A woman had been married to seven brethren; whose wife is she if she passes to a world where all are living? The purpose of the question was not to prove anything in regard to marriage, but to show, as they thought, the impossibility of a future life.
You will observe, also, that there is no reference in the words of the Sadducees to the manner or the time of the resurrection. It is simply a question of the continuation of life after death. " In the resurrection" does not mean in the act of being raised up, but in the life after this. But our Lord's reply shows not only that there is a resurrection, but that for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it had already taken place, for to God all are living. Our Lord answers the question in a way to confound the Sadducees, as He did the Pharisees, and at the same time to state most important truths, both in regard to the resurrection and to marriage.
"Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God." They thought they understood them. They had quoted them to Him. They failed in comprehending the true meaning of the Scriptures, because they limited their meaning to the letter alone. They did not admit that they had any other than a material or purely natural meaning. This is the cause of much religious error in the Christian world. Many of the false doctrines which have destroyed the church and split up its numbers into many sects originate in giving only a literal interpretation to Scripture. Two false doctrines most inimical to the true knowledge of man and of his life in the resurrection have been drawn from the letter of the passage we are now considering. One is that the material body is raised up from the sepulchre; and the other is that the marriage relation does not exist in heaven, neither of which doctrines is taught by our Lord. The genuine truth of the letter can be seen only in the light of its higher meaning. Those who deny to Scripture a spiritual and Divine meaning exclude the light which is essential- to a true understanding of it. This denial is as fatal to true understanding as it would be to limit the words we use to express our thoughts and affections, to their material meaning. For example, the literal meaning of spirit is " breath" or " wind." Exclude all other meaning, and what absurdities you would fall into concerning the meaning of Scripture, or of common conversation. Let us not err in the interpretation of this passage of Scripture, as the Sadducees did in the one they quoted to the Lord. Let us try to get the literal and the spiritual and true meaning of our Lord.
"For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God." This is strictly and literally true of marriage, as the Sadducees understood it. They regarded marriage as a merely natural relation. It did not necessarily imply any unity of mind and heart. The parties had but little to do in the selection of a partner. This was done by parents or mutual friends. The case mentioned in the text, in which a brother was compelled in some cases by the Jewish law to marry his deceased brother's wife, is a good illustration of the entirely civil nature of the relation. No ideas or motives entered into it that were not of a material, worldly, and natural character. There can be no marriages in heaven in this sense. The answer was literally and perfectly true according to the ideas of the Sadducees.
The statement of the Lord, in its simple, literal sense, also covers a broader ground. He does not say that marriage does not exist in heaven, but that marriages are not effected there. " They neither marry nor are given in marriage." The real marriage of all souls is effected in this life. It is not a legal arrangement sanctioned by any ritual. It is a union of minds. It is the union of two beings who are the exact complements of each other, and who are so by virtue of their creation and the development of character which is effected in this world. To take an extreme case, let us suppose two infants who die as soon as born. Both, as we know, will go to heaven. But the specific qualities of their nature will be determined by their hereditary character. All creation is in ultimates. The material worlds are the workshop of the universe. All ideas, thoughts, and intellectual conceptions have their basis and specific origin in the world. The earth is the nursery of heaven. Souls are begotten here and transplanted to the paradise above, and they derive their rudimental form and nature from the earthly matrix. The first step is taken here, and the first step enters into all succeeding ones and modifies them. Through whatever experiences two human beings may subsequently pass, therefore, whatever attainments they make, to whatever influences they may be subject, the original nature derived hereditarily from parents will enter into all states, and form a powerful element in modifying them and determining the specific character of their thoughts and affections, -those qualities which will determine their eternal relations.
But this principle will be more readily seen and acknowledged when persons have lived some years in this world. The culture and development of character, the spiritual state we attain, is formed by the labor and experience and influences of this life. Those qualities which determine the soul's affinities and repulsions are distilled in the alembic of natural forms, and the wedding garments which will clothe those affections are woven in the loom of time. Every human being is today developing the forces which will draw him to all souls in general, and to one soul in particular, and is forming the bonds which will bind them into indissoluble unity. Now, in the life of this world, consciously or unconsciously, soul is stretching out its tendrils to soul, and they are clasping each other and becoming one. The children of this world marry and are given in marriage. The conditions are determined and the initial act of union is taken here in this life, and when death draws the veil of flesh aside, and we have put off all that is not homogeneous to our real natures, we shall see the result. When, therefore, we understand what marriage really is; when we see that the ritual or formalities of marriage are no part of the marriage itself, but that it is a real union of two beings by a process of spiritual growth and mutual assimilation, we can see that our Lord stated a universal truth when He said, " In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage;" while He in no way asserted that the marriage relation does not exist in the resurrection.
The whole question of the relation between man and woman in the spiritual world is to be determined in another manner. It is to be decided by the nature of man as a spiritual being, by the relation of the masculine and feminine principles to each other, by the nature of marriage, and especially by a knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures in their spiritual and heavenly meaning. That those whom God joins together and makes one will live together forever, so fully accords with reason, so harmonizes with all the analogies of the universe, and is so imperatively demanded by every faculty of the will and the understanding in both man and woman, that there can be no room to doubt its truth, in the mind of any one who has any true knowledge of the relations of man and woman to each other, and of both to the Lord.
Another lesson is contained in the passage we are now considering, in regard to the union of the will and the understanding in man, and the union of man with the Lord. In a deeper sense, the resurrection here referred to is the resurrection of the soul from spiritual death. By the fall the will and the understanding were divorced from each other, the harmony and unity of life were destroyed, man was no longer capable of receiving the Divine life in unperverted forms, and he became spiritually dead. The will closed against the influx of the Divine life and the understanding was darkened, and the whole man became spiritually divorced from the Lord and wandered so far from Him that he was on the point of utter ruin. To avert this calamity, and to restore man to conjunction with Himself, the Lord assumed a human nature, and by means of it came into the world and reopened direct communication between Himself and the human soul. He invites all men to come back to Him and to enter into that relation of reciprocal unity which man possessed before the fall. He calls all men to the heavenly marriage.
Now, it is impossible to be raised up from death and to enter into this marriage with the Lord except as marriage is established between a heavenly will and a heavenly understanding in ourselves. We must be regenerated and reborn. The old, evil will and the false understanding must be rejected. We must lay down that life; we must put on the wedding garment. When the Lord calls us we must come. God is not our God while we are dead. We do not acknowledge Him as our King. And we never shall acknowledge Him until we receive His truth into our understandings, and His love into our hearts, and the two become united in our deeds. The marriage of the will and understanding is effected in our natural deeds. The soul is not made new by a knowledge of the truth, nor by the mere force of will. No man can change the nature of his affections, or what we sometimes call his character, by merely willing to do it. We often wish that we did not feel as we do. We see many evil affections within us. We wish we could get rid of them. But wishing and merely willing will not effect it. We must carry the will into act. You see, for example, a great contrariety between your will and your understanding. You know much better than you love to do. Now, no amount of wishing, or willing, or desiring will ever remove this contrariety. The marriage can be effected only by doing. The will and understanding do not come together in any abstract way. Affection and thought must be espoused, and the union must be consummated in the deeds of life. They must act and react upon each other. By this continual contact and mutual influence they become united. The affection becomes the life of the thought, and the thought the form of the affection. "They twain shall be one flesh." Harmony and order are gradually restored.
The resurrection of the soul from spiritual death is effected by this union, and just according to the degree of the union. The initial act of this marriage has taken place and must take place in this life; it cannot be postponed to the other world. It must also take place before the resurrection from our natural evil state is accomplished, as the cause must always precede the effect. We cannot postpone our efforts to do well until well-doing has become natural and easy. Therefore, in every sense of the words, it is true that " in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God." The will and the understanding have now come into an angelic state. " Neither can they die any more for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection."
They are the children of God because they are born of Him. They become also, in a true sense of the word, members of the church, which is the bride, the Lamb's wife. They sustain a new relation to the Lord, because they have come into a new state. They come to the marriage-supper, and they have on the wedding garment, and they partake, of the oxen and fatlings which the King has prepared. They receive the Divine love into their hearts and the Divine wisdom into their understandings, and they expand under their influence and grow into a closer unity with each other, and are drawn into a more intimate conjunction with the Lord.
The fact that the heavenly marriage must be entered into in the natural life of this world is emphasized by the Lord's words in Luke, " The children of this world marry and are given in marriage." "The children of this world," or "age," means more than people living on this earth. It means the affections and thoughts of our natural mind, or those which lie nearest to our practical life and conduct. It is in this plane of life that all spiritual union takes place. The will and the understanding of the spiritual degree of the mind flow into the truths in the natural mind, and by means of them they become united with each other and with the natural thoughts and affections, and they get such a hold upon them that they can raise them up from the grave of sin and falsity into spiritual life. The Lord sends down the golden chain of His love and wisdom from the highest principles of our nature to the lowest. He weaves link after link in each plane of the mind, of the ideas and affections which compose that plane, until He reaches the lowest, " the children of this world." If there is any truth and goodness in the natural mind to which He can link the higher degrees; if a spiritual affection can be united to a natural affection, He can raise up the natural and bring it so fully under the sphere and power of the spiritual that it can direct and control it, and bring it into His service. The real union, the marriage, in all cases is effected among " the children of this world."
From these methods and principles of the Divine order we
may derive the most important, practical truth, that the way, and the only
way, to effect the marriage of goodness and truth in the soul and to bring
all its faculties into harmony with one another, and into conjunction with
the Lord, is to unite heavenly affection and thought in act. Neither
thinking nor willing is sufficient. Thought and affection must be united
in deeds. The moment we begin to act we get greater strength and clearer
light, and find a growing affection for what we are doing. The principal
reason why people generally have so little interest in spiritual subjects
is that they do nothing for spiritual uses. They do not bring a heavenly
life into natural act. The natural mind is left in the darkness and cold
and death of a merely natural life, and all spiritual thought and
affection is allowed to pass off without any effect, like heat and light
from the sun which flow off into the regions of space because they find no
basis upon which to rest and from which to react. All true religion has
nearly perished from the earth because it has been divorced from life. It
is ultimated only in the formalities of worship and thus is in constant
danger of becoming a ritual, or ceremony, or a creed, when it is of no
value except in the degree that it becomes a life. Marry your spiritual
thought and affection to your deeds and in your deeds. Bring love to God
and the neighbor into your daily work, into your social and domestic and
civil life, and you will raise them up from the servility and conflict and
death of a merely natural life; and " Thou shalt no more be termed
Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate : but thou
shalt be called Hephzibah [my delight is in her], and thy land Beulah
[married]; for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be