Jesus' Argument for the Resurrection


Here is our Lord's argument for the resurrection. To many Christians it has been a mere puzzle. It has challenged their attention, but they have gotten no meaning out of it. To many skeptics it has been a target for ridicule. They have denied the conclusiveness of the proof; they have called it a mere argumentum ad hominem. In both cases the fault lies, not in Jesus' words, but in the ignorance of his interpreters. The argument is certainly put in such form that it can be treated cavalierly by those who are so disposed. But the earnest and thoughtful will find it better than a mine of gold. Let us give to Christ's utterance a reverent and sympathetic study. Be sure that it will convince the intellect and comfort the heart.

Jesus' argument is, that God's saying in the Old Testament that he is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, of itself proves that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will rise again. At first sight one does not perceive the necessary connection between the premises and the conclusion. But the difficulty

1 A sermon preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Rochester, N. Y., Sunday morning, January 15, 1899, on the text, Matt. 22 : 31, 32: "But, 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, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."


arises from the fact that some of the links in the argument are suppressed. It is a sort of enthymeme; and an enthymeme, as one has said, is a syllogism in which the major is married to the minor, but the marriage is kept secret. There is no false logic. All we need is to supply the links that are omitted: then the demonstration shines out with unequaled clearness and beauty. It is my purpose to take this argument of Jesus for the resurrection, and, without adding anything to it, simply to expand what is here condensed. If I am not mistaken, three great truths are here implied, and the first of them is this: There are some whom God loves.

More precisely, there are men upon whom God has set a peculiar love. "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" means just this. It is a declaration of God's interest and friendship and care for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Abraham is called "the friend of God," not because he is friendly to God, but because God is friendly to him. He has been chosen by God, called out from Ur of the Chaldees, separated for God's service and possession. This is the meaning of God's assurance in Gen. 18 : 19. "I have known him "—set on him my special regard—" in order that he may command his children after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord." God has selected Abraham to be the father of the faithful, the beginning of a new line of believers, the founder of a spiritual kingdom of God upon the earth.

And Abraham has responded to God's choice. He has chosen God, as God has chosen him. In his sacrifice of Isaac, he has shown that he trusts God's word more than he trusts any earthly ground of hope; he loves God more than he loves his only son. Abraham has entered into a living relation to God,—a spiritual oneness with him. He has no interests apart from God's interests; God is his inheritance; his life is in God. Like David after him he can say, "O God, thou art my God," meaning thereby not simply that he worships God, but that he possesses God.

What is true of Abraham is in its measure true of Isaac and of Jacob. Both of them at the critical times of their lives make choice of God, believe his promise, make God's interests theirs. And this faith attracts God's special regard, ensures his favor. He recognizes his relationship, bond, and obligation to them, as they have recognized their relationship, bond, and obligation to him. He enters into covenant with them, as they enter into covenant with him. As they call him, so he calls himself, "their God."

But for God to say to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, "I am thy God," means more than it does for Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob to say to him, "Thou art my God." The love of mortal man is small and faint, compared with that of God. Man's expressions of love must always be discounted, because of his imperfect knowledge of himself, his changefulness, his untruth. It is only when God is with us, when our conscience bears us witness in the Holy Ghost, that earthly expressions of affection are absolutely trustworthy. Happy those who can say, "Our loves in higher love endure," for only that higher love is unchanging. But it is that higher, that infinite, that eternal love that speaks in the words "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of LOVE CAN NEVER LOSE ITS OWN 409

Isaac, and the God of Jacob." In these woras the mighty God condescends to bind himself as in a marriage covenant with children of the dust. The words imply that henceforth their interests are his interests, their future is his future, their life is his life. Everything that concerns them is a matter of concern to him.

Love makes over its all to the object of its affection; it keeps nothing back; it absolutely gives itself. Love spends itself for the beloved; it keeps its powers only to use for him. So God gives himself to his people, and all his attributes of truth and wisdom, of justice and power, are engaged on their behalf. If the great God has set his love upon us, if we have accepted his invitation and taken him to be our God, then we are rich indeed. Since God is our God, we are the objects of a love so vast and so transcendent that all things are ours, and it is all the same as if we were kings and lords of all. God himself is greater than all the universe besides, and to have God is to have all. When God declares "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," he declares that he has given himself to them, and that all his treasures are theirs.

The first thing implied in Jesus' argument for the resurrection is that there are certain men upon whom God has set a peculiar love. The second thing implied is equally important, and I wish now to call attention to it. It is this: God's love can never let go its own. If God has called himself the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, then Abraham and Isaac and Jacob can never perish or cease to be. For those we love are a part of ourselves. We cannot let them long go out of our sight. We cannot let them die. We yearn after them when they are absent. We make desperate struggle with the accident and disease that would permanently separate them from us.

At the exposition in Chicago, no picture attracted more eager interest than Watts' picture of "Love and Death." Upon that canvas Love, a bright and beautiful youth, is striving vainly to press back from the threshold the sombre figure of Death. Death is a giant, and he is wrapped in a mantle, so that his face cannot be seen. He overtops Love, and tramples under his feet the flowers that have fallen from Love's fingers. He conquers Love, but upon Love's young face there is both agony and resolve,—agony at the thought of temporary separation, but resolve that Death shall yet be conquered and be made his servant and slave. The picture appeals to the universal human heart. It expresses one of the strongest beliefs of our nature. We feel that everything else may perish, but that love cannot die. "Your heart," says the psalmist, "shall live forever." And that is the same as to say that those whom love has made a part of us can never die, any more than our love for them can die.

Robert Hall, the great English preacher, was in his youth a materialist, and had no faith in immortality. But when his father died, and the coffin was lowered into the grave, and Robert Hall looked down upon it, there flashed upon him the conviction that this could not be the end. The fatherly affection which had poured itself forth for so many years could not have ceased; somewhere that love must still live on. Robert Hall

gave up his materialism and became a preacher of Jesus and the resurrection.

This has been the conclusion of the greatest poets. Those who see deepest into the heart of things are believers in immortality, because they are believers in love. Dante, smitten with his immortal passion for Beatrice, gives us his witness: "Thus I believe, thus I affirm, thus I am certain it is, that from this life I shall pass to another better, there where that lady lives, of whom my soul was enamored." Robert Browning inscribed these words of Dante in his wife's Testament, and in a letter written not long before his death he says: "It is a great thing—the greatest—that a human being should have passed the probation of life, and should sum up its experience in a witness to the power and love of God. . . I see ever more reason to hold by the same hope."

And the minor poets follow. How many a widow sorrowing over a husband taken from her, how many a father whose son has been stricken down by his side, has been comforted by Whittier's words:

Yet Love will dream and Faith will trust,
Since He who knows our need is just,
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress trees!
Who hopeless lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across his mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned in hours of faith
The truth, to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever Lord of Death,
And Love can never lose its own!

So, so it is. "Love can never lose its own." It is this great law of love and of life which Jesus applies to God. Those whom God loves are a part of him, and he cannot let them perish. Shall God's love be less than man's? No, it must be greater. "God is not," then, "the God of the dead but of the living, for all live unto him." It is this ever-living and ever-loving God who says to them who are bound to him by ties of faith and affection: "I give unto them eternal life; they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then, have not perished, —they are still alive. The body indeed has turned to dust, but the soul is with God. Death was but the taking of them to God's bosom. The life of the saints here is but the beginning of eternal life. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" says Paul. And the answer for substance is: "I am persuaded that neither death nor life shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord." It is the same truth which the old English poet, Henry More, put into his verse:

But souls that of his own good life partake
He loves as his own self; dear as his eye
They are to him ; he' 11 never them forsake;
When they shall die, then God himself shall die;
They live, they live in blest eternity.

The first truth implied in Jesus' argument was that there are certain men upon whom God has set a peculiar love; the second truth was that God's love can never let go its own. The third truth I have yet SOUL AND BODY BELONG TOGETHER 4I3

to call attention to. It is this: God's love embraces both the body and the soul, and will therefore reunite them. Has death deprived Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of the bodies which they once inhabited? Then the same love of God which has not suffered the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to perish, will not permanently give their bodies to the tomb. Love will complete its work by bringing soul and body once more together. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall yet possess an outward form suited to the uses of the spirit. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall rise again.

We cannot perceive the full force of this reasoning unless we remember that man is a two-fold creature. Body belongs to him as well as soul. He was not created incorporeal, like the angels; he is not meant to be a pure spirit, like God. The idealism of thirty or forty years ago cast contempt upon the body. People were accustomed to say that they wanted nothing more of the earthly tabernacle, after it was laid away in the dust. The dreams of the future in which the last generation indulged were often extravagant dreams of a bodiless existence in which the soul wandered over the universe without a local habitation or a home.

If modern materialism has done no other service to truth, we may at least credit it with this: It has revived our reverence for the human body, has shown how cunning is its workmanship, has pointed out how great a help it is to the highest delights and activities of the soul. Now indeed we are in danger of falling into the opposite error,—that of imagining that, because soul cannot do its noblest work without body, therefore without body soul cannot work or exist at all. The Scripture steers clear of both errors, the error of materialism, as well as the error of idealism. It maintains that soul can exist and can be conscious in the intermediate state; but it maintains also that this intermediate state is one of imperfection, and that the happiness of the righteous will be complete only when the soul receives a body once more in the morning of the resurrection.

That soul and body go together was a truth accepted by all the Jews, and it was assumed by our Lord in his argument. Even the Sadducees did not deny it; they only held that with the death of the body the soul dies also. Jesus showed them the logical result of their admission. God cannot love the soul without also loving the body. Can we separate the two in our own thoughts of those we love? Do we not cherish the physical well-being of our friends, love the outward form for the sake of the indwelling soul? Are we not jealous of every influence that mars the countenance and brings on signs of age or dissolution? Is it not a pang to us to see the body of one we love go to naught? Even after the spirit has departed, is there not care for the dead? And, if God loves us, will he not care for the body also?

Ah, yes, the living relation to God into which the believer has entered has put dignity even upon the body. The body has been sanctified by God's indwelling. God will not let even the frail earthly tabernacle perish. Though here it has been the home of pain and sometimes the instrument of sin, yet the Holy Spirit has made it his temple. God loved the body of Christ and could not suffer that body to see corruption. And SALVATION NOT PURELY SPIRITUAL 4I5

the apostle transfers all this to the believer. He tells us that "if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, because of" (or, on account of) "his Spirit that dwelleth in you."

So our salvation shall not be purely spiritual. It shall include a new and restored life of the body. Just as surely as Christ rose from the dead, so surely shall we rise. Because he lives, we shall live also. He is the resurrection for the body, as well as the life for the soul. His resurrection is the pledge and the type of ours. Therefore, "we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory, according to that working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself."

These words of Paul are only an expansion of the doctrine announced by our Lord himself, only an unfolding of the logical implications of God's love. Body and soul go together. Human nature, in God's conception of it, is not complete with either part lacking. Death is indeed the separation of body and soul, but this separation is only temporary. If soul has been divested of body, that is but the effect of sin. He who has conquered sin has conquered death as well. With the sin that caused it, even the last enemy, death, shall be destroyed. If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then they are the objects of God's love. They have not perished, but they are still alive; even their mortal bodies are dear to God; the separation of body from soul, in their case, shall not be eternal. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall surely rise again.

The reasoning of our Lord in this argument is matchless. No proposition of Euclid was ever more conclusively or more beautifully demonstrated. I have tried to unfold it, however, not for the sake of Abraham, of Isaac, or of Jacob, nor simply to prove an abstract and distant truth with regard to them, but to repress the Sadducean doubts that often take possession even of Christian hearts, and to turn the vague hopes and longings of believers into rational and unwavering convictions. On this great matter of the resurrection our Lord has not meant that we should be children. He would have us able to give a reason for the hope that is in us. The grounds for assurance are sufficient, and more than sufficient. He points us to the one mighty fact of love, and he argues that this of itself proves there shall be a resurrection from the dead.

The argument was conclusive even before Christ's death and resurrection. How much more impressive it is now when God's love has been demonstrated by the cross and resurrection of our Lord! If Jesus, even before he died and rose again, could claim that the resurrection of the righteous followed with indubitable certainty from the fact that God had called himself their God, how much greater reason have we to believe, now that our Lord has set the example for us of going down into the grave and of coming up from it a conqueror! In Christ we are the objects of this same omnipotent love of God. Christ is only the "first-fruits of them that slept." His resurrection draws in its train the resurrection of his people. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."

There is much about the future which we do not know, and which it is probably best that we should not know. There are secrets which will not be told until the day when the heavenly Bridegroom shall take home his bride. But we can trust it all to love. "He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things,"—even knowledge, when the fit time shall come. There is much that I desire to know about myself. I may be sure that "the Lord will perfect that which concerneth me." "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

Then shall I see and hear and know
All I desire or wish below,
And every power find full employ,
In that eternal world of joy.

But there is more, if possible, that I desire to know about those whom I love. I rejoice that the great day of the future is to be a day of revelation,—not simply a revelation of Christ to his people, and of his people to themselves, but aiso a revelation of his people to each other. More satisfying even than the thought of our own future glory is the thought that those whom we have loved and lost shall come to their own once more, shall be arrayed in a loveliness that shall ravish our souls and that shall justify all the sorrow of our long parting.

I might leave the subject here, but I should not do it justice without mentioning two inferences, one of which we may not draw, and the other of which we may draw,


from our Saviour's words. Notice, first, that Jesus says nothing with regard to the method of the resurrection, nor does our Lord answer the question, "With what body do they come?" Paul answers it only by referring us to the infinite power of God. He intimates that the new body is not to be made up of particles of the old, any more than the growing grain has in it the very particles which constituted the seed: "That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be. God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him."

There shall be some sort of connection between the old and the new, so that the new body shall seem ours and friend shall recognize friend; but it is no doctrine of Scripture, and it is quite unnecessary to suppose, that every particle or any particle of the old enters into the new. I call the Genesee River the same river that it was when the Indians camped upon its banks, yet not a drop of the water that was there then is in the river today. I call my body the same with that of my childhood, but all its particles have changed many, many times since then.

Identity does not consist in sameness of particles but in the unity of the informing soul, and nature's elements are an inexhaustible reservoir from which the soul can freely appropriate at each moment whatever at that moment it may need. Here and now sin prevents the spirit from exercising full control over matter; the body gets the upper hand, as it were; the body, with its weakness and occasional deformity, does not perfectly serve the soul nor reflect its true nature. Still it is true that body is the intended vehicle and normal expression of spirit. And the great advantage of the life A DODY SUITED TO THE SPIRIT 4I9

to come, over the life that now is, will be that then and there the spirit shall exercise full control over matter; the soul shall get the upper hand once more; the soul shall take to itself a body that will perfectly serve it and will perfectly express its true nature.

For of the soul the body form doth take;
For soul is form, and doth the body make.

In the day of resurrection, therefore, the sons of God shall not be fettered by any imperfection, or disease, or twist, or abnormity that belongs to the body here. Nature is only the plastic expression of God's mind and will, and there can be no question of his ability to give them such a body as pleases him. And as the saints enter into God's mind and will, each will take the body that suits him. Under the inventive hand of God, matter is capable of wonderful transformations. The same element is now ice, hard and solid; now fluid water, in the cataract; now mist, on which the rainbow hangs; now steam, that drives the locomotive on its track.

So the spiritual body will be a body suited to the uses of the spirit, material indeed, yet possibly as transparent as the air, and capable of motion as swift as the light. Jesus' argument proves, not that we are to enter again this old and worn-out tenement of clay, but that we are to be clothed upon with a house which is from heaven; that we shall receive a new body cleansed from the dishonors of the tomb; that we shall have an outward organism, the outgrowth somehow of the old, but ethereal and sublime, the perfect vehicle and instrument of the sanctified spirit.

And now for a last inference which we may draw from Jesus' words. Shall our friends still be ours? Will not the glory to which they have become accustomed lift them above us and make it impossible for them to commune with such as we? Here too, the answer is simply love. Love to God is inclusive, not exclusive. The more we love God, the more deeply and tenderly we love our fellows. And the saints above, now that they are near to God, are by that fact nearer to us, for they cannot love God without loving us also; they cannot love God the more, without also loving us the more. And so our longing for them is a pledge of their longing for us. They wait for our coming, even as we wait for them. If God's love for his own is a pledge that they can never die and can never be separated from him, then the love for our friends which he has put into our hearts is also a pledge that they cannot be permanently separated from us.

All true love is one, for love is from God. "If a man die, shall he live again ?" asks Job. And the answer is: "All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee. Thou wilt have a desire to the work of thy hands." In other words, Job argues that because God loves him, God will long for the restoration even of his mortal body, and will bring that body from the tomb. So too, we argue that this same divine love of which we have been made partakers, and which prompts us to desire reunion with the objects of our affection, will not be disappointed. We shall not always stretch out vain hands into the darkness. Some day we shall call, and they will answer. As God's own desire has been repro

duced in us, so we shall partake of God's own satisfaction. We too shall have our own, and those upon whom we have set our affection shall be ours forever.

Did I say there is much that we do not know? Might I not better have said that there is much that we do know? We know enough for this life of probation and discipline, and what we know not now we shall know hereafter. Let us prize the lamp which love has put into our hands to guide us through the present darkness, and let us wait with patience and hope "till the day dawn, and the shadows flee away!"

I cannot think of them as dead

Who walk with me no more;
Along the path of life I tread

They have but gone before.

The Father's house has mansions fair,

Beyond my vision dim;
All souls are his and, here or there,

Are living unto him.

And still their silent ministry

Within my heart hath place;
As when on earth they walked with me

And met me face to face.

Mine are they by an ownership

Nor time nor death can free;
For God hath given to love, to keep

Its own, eternally.