In preparing to preach on Jesus’ resurrection this week at Redemption Hill Church I read a great sermon by Charles Simeon (see also) from his Horea Homileticae. Whether I quote from it on Sunday or not, it was a great encouragement to my soul. Thought I’d share for you as well.
THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
1 Cor. 15:17, 18. 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.
THE wisest among the heathen philosophers could not speak with any certainty respecting the future existence of the soul: they could only form conjectures respecting it; so little could unassisted reason do towards the ascertaining of this most important point. As for the resurrection of the body, they deemed it ridiculous and absurd; and considered it as impossible that atoms, so widely dispersed and so variously combined, should ever be reduced to their original form. The Gospel, however, has brought life and immortality to light; and assured us, not only that every soul shall exist in a future world, but that the bodies of men also shall rise out of their graves, and be re-united each to that very soul that once inhabited it. Nevertheless, some, who made a profession of Christianity, were still blinded by the prejudices which they had formerly imbibed. Hence they explained the doctrine of the resurrection in a figurative manner; and said, that it was passed already. The Apostle, therefore, set himself to counteract this dangerous delusion, by proving that there should indeed be a resurrection of the body This he proved from what was fully believed among them, the resurrection of Christ: he shewed, that, if Christ was actually risen, there could be no reason why we should not rise in like manner; but that, on the contrary, his resurrection was a pattern and an earnest of ours. In order to give additional weight to this argument, he proves incontestibly that Christ himself had risen; he proves it, I say, by an appeal to numberless living witnesses who had seen him: and then he sets before them three most tremendous consequences which would follow, on a supposition that he was not risen: “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins; then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” This argument of the Apostle’s being of the greatest importance, we will endeavour,
I. To confirm;
II. To improve it.
I. To confirm his argument—It consists of three parts, which he mentions as consequences that will follow from a denial of Christ’s resurrection—
1. If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain—
The Christian, as long as he is in the world, is called to the exercise of faith: he walks by faith, and not by sight: he lives upon a Saviour whom he has never seen with his bodily eyes, and receives a supply of every want out of his fulness. By faith we view Jesus as a surety: we consider him as having discharged our debt: this is the ground on which we hope that our sins shall never be put to our account. We believe what the Scripture says, that “it was exacted of him and he was made answerable;” and that his death was a sufficient compensation for the debt which we had incurred. But what proof have we that he has paid the debt, if he be not risen? We may suppose that he undertook to pay it; and that he laid down his life in order to pay it; but this will by no means prove that he has fully satisfied the demands of law and justice. If a man that has become our surety remain in prison, it is a sign that he has not made good the payment which he had taken upon himself; but if he be set free, we then conclude that the creditors have been satisfied. So, if Christ had yet been confined in the prison of the grave, we might have concluded that the debt was yet unpaid; and consequently, our faith in him as our surety would have been vain and delusive: for, notwithstanding all which Jesus might have done for us, there would yet have remained some part of the debt to be discharged by us, and we must therefore have despaired of ever obtaining happiness in the eternal world.
Again: By faith we view Jesus as an Advocate. We are still offending daily in many things; so that, notwithstanding we have been reconciled to God, we should soon provoke him to withdraw his mercy from us, and to shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure. But the Scripture says, that, “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” By faith, we look to him to intercede for us; to plead our cause; and to maintain our peace with God. But what ground have we for such a hope if Christ be not risen? Instead of being in heaven to plead our cause, he still lies in the bowels of the earth: instead of living to promote our interests, he is no better than a senseless and inanimate corpse. How vain therefore must be our expectations, when we indulge the thought of his prevailing intercessions! We are but buoying up ourselves with groundless hopes, and weaving a web which shall soon be swept away by the besom of destruction.
Once more:—By faith we view Jesus as a Head of all vital influences. The Scripture speaks of him as the vine, and us as the branches; and represents him as “Head over all things to the Church.” We look therefore to him that we may receive out of his fulness: we expect grace and peace from him to be communicated to us in the hour of need: we consider ourselves as withered branches, when separated from him, and as no longer having a capacity to bring forth any fruit than while we are united to him, and derive sap and nourishment from him. But what a delusion must this be, if Christ be not risen! If he be not risen, he is still dead: and how can that which is destitute of life impart life to us? What can we possibly receive from him if he be still imprisoned in the grave? We see, then, that whether we regard him as our Surety, our Advocate, or our Head, our faith is vain if he be not risen; yea, we are left under the most deplorable error and delusion that ever engrossed the mind of man.
The next consequence that would follow upon a denial of Christ’s resurrection would be, that we should be yet in our sins.
It is the believer’s privilege to be free from sin, and to stand in the presence of God without spot or blemish. But this removal of his sins depends upon various circumstances, which are grounded upon the resurrrection of Christ.
In the first place, the removal of our sins depends on the truth of our Lord’s mission: and the truth of his mission stands or falls with his resurrection. Our Lord constantly spoke of his resurrection on the third day as the grand proof which should be given of his Divine mission. Whether he spoke to friends or enemies, still this he proposed as the test whereby to try the truth of all he said; insomuch that his enemies were peculiarly solicitous to prevent, if possible, the accomplishment of these predictions; knowing that, if they should be fulfilled, the authority of his mission would be fully established. Now let us suppose for a moment that Christ had not risen, what must we have concluded? Surely, that he was an impostor; that he had deceived his followers by specious pretences; and that, so far from being able to remove our guilt, he perished under the weight of his own most accumulated wickedness.
Again: The removal of our sins depends on the acceptance of his sacrifice. He offered himself as a sacrifice to God, in order that he might expiate our offences; and on the acceptance of this, our eternal happiness depends: if God receive it as an offering of a sweet-smelling savour, we may hope he will be propitious to us on account of it; but if he do not declare himself well-pleased with it, we are left altogether without a remedy. Now how shall it be known whether God has accepted it or not? If we are to judge by the circumstances of our Lord’s death, we should rather conclude that the Father took no pleasure in him, since our Lord himself so bitterly complained of the dereliction which he experienced in the very hour of his extremity. We must judge therefore by his resurrection: and that this was to be the test is evident from the sacrifices which were under the law. It was not consistent with the Divine will that the beasts that were sacrificed should be restored to life; but yet this was done in a figure: for one goat was slain to expiate sin by his blood, and another goat was sent away into the wilderness, laden with the iniquities of all the people. So when birds were offered; one was slain, and another was dipped in the blood of that which was slain, and then let loose into the air. These were types of our Saviour, who was first to be slain, and then to be raised from the dead, and ascend into the highest heavens; and if he had not risen, we should have had no proof whatever that his sacrifice was accepted. Yet on the acceptance of this sacrifice the removal of our sins entirely depended; so that if Christ be not risen, we must be yet in our sins.
Once more: The removal of our sins depends on our Lord’s execution of his office. Our Lord undertook the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King; and though he did in part fulfil these offices on earth, yet he fulfilled them only in part; the principal accomplishment of them remained to take place after he should be seated in heaven: he was then, as the great Prophet of the Church, to reveal the will of God more fully, and teach by his Spirit those, who, for want of a divine illumination, could not comprehend the truths he had delivered. As the great High Priest, he was to enter within the vail: it was not sufficient that the high priest offered the sacrifice on the day of atonement; he was also to carry the blood into the holy of holies, to sprinkle it on the mercy-seat, to offer incense, and then to come out and bless the people. So, our Lord was under a necessity of rising again, that he might enter into heaven with his own blood, that he might there present it before the mercy-seat; and that, after offering the incense of his continual intercession, he might, in due time, come forth to bless the people. As a King, also, he had only as yet asserted his kingly office and authority; it was necessary therefore that he should go to the right hand of God, and there sit till all his enemies should be made his footstool. Now, if he did not rise, he cannot execute any of these offices; and yet upon the execution of them depends the removal of our sins: so then, if he be not risen, we are yet in our sins.
We see therefore, that, as the removal of our sins depends on the truth of his mission, the acceptance of his sacrifice, and the execution of his offices; and as all these depend on his resurrection, we must, if he be not risen, be yet in our sins.
A third consequence that would follow from the denial of Christ’s resurrection is, that they also who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished. Death to the believer is only as a sleep; it has lost its sting: and as he commends himself to the Divine protection when he lies down upon his bed, so he commits his departing spirit into his Saviour’s hands, and falls asleep in Christ; and while his body lies mouldering in the dust, his soul is carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom: but if Christ be not risen, all who from the beginning of the world have fallen asleep in Christ have perished: either their souls have been annihilated at their separation from the body; or rather they have become the monuments of God’s wrath and indignation.
For, in the first place, all that have fallen asleep in Christ, have, on a supposition that Christ is not risen, built their hopes on a sandy foundation. They have relied wholly on the merit of Christ’s blood, and expected justification only through his obedience unto death: and, as they have trusted in his righteousness, so have they gloried in his strength; not going forth against any enemy, but in his name, and in reliance upon his grace: nor have they trusted in any thing but in his continual intercession for maintaining their peace with God. In short, they have made Christ their only foundation, on whom they have built all their hopes. Now if Christ be not risen, that foundation has failed them, and consequently all the superstructure must fall to the ground: so that, notwithstanding all their affiance in him, they are perished; yea, though they committed their departing spirits into his hands, they were not saved: for he could not help them; he could not hear their prayer: in trusting to him they trusted only to a broken reed, which now pierces them through with unutterable and everlasting anguish.
Again: If Christ be not risen, they are perished; because, however zealous they were of good works, their works were not sufficient to justify them before God. We cannot indeed conceive more eminent piety than Abraham discovered in leaving his country and sacrificing his own son; or than David manifested in his incessant praises and thanksgivings; or than Stephen shewed when laying down his life for Christ, and praying for his murderers. And yet behold what the text asserts; “they all are perished if Christ be not risen.” The reason is plain: they were transgressors of God’s law; as transgressors, they were subject to the curse and condemnation of the law; nor could any thing less than an infinitely valuable atonement remove that curse. In vain they prayed; in vain they strove; in vain they endeavoured to do the will of God; in vain they laid down their lives for his sake; they were under the curse; and cursed they must be, if Christ did not become their Saviour. But he could not become a Saviour to them if he did not rise; and therefore, if he be not risen, they are all, without exception, perished. They are perished; first, because their foundation failed them; and next, because, that having failed, no hope remained to them from any thing which they themselves could do. It is now plain, I trust, that the consequences which the Apostle states as following a denial of our Lord’s resurrection are true, and that his argument is strictly just. Having therefore confirmed his argument, we proceed,
II. To improve it—
It will be to little purpose to know the force of the Apostle’s reasoning, unless we deduce from it those practical inferences which may bring it home to our hearts and consciences.
First, then, We may see from hence how ignorant they are that seek salvation by works!
The generality of mankind are hoping to be saved for something which they have done, or something which they intend to do: indeed even those who have lived in all manner of evil tempers and sensual indulgences are yet often so blind, as to be the most strenuous in contending for the merit of good works, and in crying out against those who speak of salvation by faith. But do these people fancy themselves wiser and better than all the saints of old? Will any one say that Stephen was not an eminently pious man? Was he not chosen out by the people, because he was full of faith and the Holy Ghost? Was he not endued with peculiar gifts, insomuch that his adversaries could not resist the spirit and wisdom with which he spake? Did he not also manifest a peculiar excellence of disposition? Did he not with all fidelity charge the people’s sins upon them? and, when they were in the very act of stoning him, did he not, after the example of our Lord, pray for his murderers? Did he not willingly seal the truth with his blood? Was he not so highly honoured of God that his face was made to shine like the face of an angel? and was he not, even while in the body, favoured with a sight of God, and of Christ, as standing at the right hand of God? Say now, Where shall we find a man that bids more fair to be saved by his works than he? yet was he saved by his works? or could he be saved by his works? No. Notwithstanding all his works, he needed the blood of Christ to cleanse him from sin: he needed Christ, as his Advocate and Strength, his Saviour and his all; and if Christ be not in a capacity to save him, he is perished. Nor have his works availed him any thing more than to lessen in some degree the condemnation he would otherwise have endured. Who then art thou that seekest to be justified by thy works? Art thou as eminent as Stephen? if not, how canst thou hope to be saved, when even he, if he had no better ground of confidence than his own works, must have perished? Or suppose that thou wert as good as he, still thou must meet with the same fate; thou must perish, and that eternally, if thou rely on any thing but a crucified and exalted Saviour. Oh, then, blush at your ignorance, ye proud, self-justifying sinners! See how Satan has blinded your eyes! See how far ye are from the way of salvation! Oh, let me beseech you for Christ’s sake, and for your soul’s sake, to renounce all your self-righteous hopes and endeavours, and to rely on him who alone can save you, and who is able to save you to the uttermost.
Secondly. We may see from hence how miserable is the state of unbelievers!
By unbelievers, we mean, not only those who deliberately reject Christ, but all who do not actually enjoy an interest in him. Now these persons, whatever they may think of themselves, and however they may bless themselves because of the abundance of earthly things which they possess, are in as miserable a state as can well be conceived: for, as they have no interest in Christ, it is eventually the same to them as if he had never risen: only with this difference, that their guilt is much greater by neglecting the Saviour, than it could have been without such an aggravation. What then is their state? precisely that mentioned in the text; “their faith, as far as they have any, is all vain:” even though they assent to all which is spoken concerning Christ, ’tis all in vain: “They are yet in their sins;” all the load of their iniquities lies upon them, and the curse of God hangeth over their devoted head. They will also “perish” whenever they die; there cannot possibly be any admission for them into heaven: perish they must; and remain for ever the monuments of God’s displeasure. And now say, is not this a miserable state? What though a man have a large estate, can that make him happy? What though he have a form of godliness, can that make him happy! No: he must have an interest in Christ, or he will be a poor miserable wretch forever. Oh! my brethren, seek an interest in this risen Saviour: think of him, not only as dying for your offences, but as risen again for your justification: and be assured, that, as you shall be reconciled to God by the death of his Son, so, much more, being reconciled, you shall be saved by his life. Do not conclude too hastily that you have an interest in the Saviour: see whether you are “risen with him through a faith of the operation of God?” and never rest till you can say, “I know in whom I have believed.”
Lastly. We see from hence how happy is the state of true believers! The resurrection of Christ, which is the foundation of all their hopes, is proved beyond a possibility of doubt: the very means taken to conceal it are among the most convincing proofs of its reality. On the very same basis, your hopes are founded: he has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Think then with yourselves, that at this moment, your faith, so far from being in vain, avails for all the purposes for which it is exercised: it secures your interest in Christ as your Surety, Advocate, and Head; and brings in an abundance of all spiritual blessings to your soul. Instead of being in your sins, they are put away from you as far as the east is from the west; nor shall they evermore be remembered against you. God has already said concerning every such soul, as he did concerning Joshua; “Take away the filthy garments from him: behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.” Further—When you die, you will not perish with the ungodly world, but will go to take possession of a “kingdom.” You will have a crown of glory on your head, and a golden harp in your hand: you will be seated on your Saviour’s throne; and shall sing his praises for evermore. Happy soul! “what manner of love is this wherewith the Father hath loved thee!” Hail, thou that art highly favoured of the Lord! Rejoice, rejoice, thou servant of the Most High God! Thy Saviour, possessed of all power in heaven and in earth, watches over thee continually: he gives his angels charge over thee: he gives thee every thing that is for thy good: and though perhaps he deals with thee not exactly as thou mightest wish, he is daily preparing thee for glory, and making thee meet for thine inheritance. Oh, then, love and serve this risen Saviour; and set your affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Let it be your endeavour to keep your conversation in heaven: and while you are living upon the Saviour’s fulness, oh, strive to live to the glory of his name. Thus will you adorn your holy profession; and when he shall come again to receive you to himself, he will welcome you with these delightful words, “Come, thou blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for thee, from the foundation of the world!”
Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 16: 1 and 2 Corinthians (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), 356-67.