Great Texts of the Bible
Citizenship in Heaven
For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation (A.V., our vile body), that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.—Php 3:20-21.
1. St. Paul, in these words, is strengthening the Christians at Philippi, by setting before them the greatness of their calling and of their destiny. They had much need of encouragement; for a time of sore and peculiar trial was then upon them. They had to endure not only bitter persecutions and the assault of Antichrists, wielding the powers of the world to wear out the saints of the Most High, but a still more dangerous, because more subtle, trial. They were being tried by false and sensual men mingling in the communion of the Church. There were among them false teachers, who mixed up the law of Moses with the gospel of Christ; double-minded men, steering between both; striving to escape persecution, and yet desiring to obtain the reputation of Christians. These were very dangerous tempters, who entered the Church in disguise, defiling it, and destroying souls for whom Christ died.
There was one special mark by which such men (as we see from both St. Paul and St. John) might be known; they lived evil lives. Therefore St. Paul here sets before the Philippians a contrast of carnal and spiritual Christians, and of the earthly and the heavenly life. After saying, “Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things”; he adds, “For our citizenship is in heaven.”
St. Paul draws a contrast between the principle that animated the lives of these sensual worldlings and the principle that animated his own life and the lives of his fellow-Christians. They “mind earthly things.” “Our citizenship is in heaven.” They have their view bounded by the earthly horizon; they believe in and live for what they can see and touch and taste—for what St. John so significantly describes as “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye and the vain glory of life.” The controlling influences which mould our lives are heavenly. The country of our allegiance is above. We draw our inspiration from the recollection of it.
No line of modern poetry has been oftener quoted with thoughtless acceptance than Wordsworth’s:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
It is wholly untrue in the implied limitation; if life be led under heaven’s law, the sense of heaven’s nearness only deepens with advancing years, and is assured in death. But the saying is indeed true thus far, that in the dawn of virtuous life every enthusiasm and every perception may be trusted as of Divine appointment; and the maxima reverentia is due not only to the innocence of children, but to their inspiration. And it follows that through the ordinary course of mortal failure and misfortune, in the career of nations no less than of men, the error of their intellect, and the hardening of their hearts, may be accurately measured by their denial of spiritual power.1 [Note: Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, viii., Letter 92 (Works, xxix. 457).]
2. The Apostle chooses a most appropriate figure. This letter of St. Paul to the Philippian Christians was written to the inhabitants of a Roman colony, or free city, such as Philippi was. Its inhabitants would, therefore, fully understand the figure of the Apostle when he called upon them to remember their high position as citizens, not of a mere mundane sovereignty, but of a Heavenly Kingdom. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Was the Roman citizen a free man—so were they. They had been “made free from sin, and become servants to God”; they were therefore to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free.” Had the Roman citizen acquired his freedom by purchase—so had they; they had been “redeemed not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Did the Roman citizen enjoy immunity from the fear that hath torment, conscious that the law had no terrors for him so long as he used it lawfully—so was it with these Philippian Christians; as long as they were “led by the Spirit they were not under the law”; “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus had made them free from the law of sin and death.” Was the Roman citizen enfranchised by virtue of adoption into the family of his master—so was it with them; they had received “the adoption of sons,” whereby they were able to cry, “Abba, Father.” Had the Roman citizen a right of personal access to the Emperor, and an appeal to his righteous judgment—so had they the right of entry before the King of kings; they might “draw nigh with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.” Was the Roman citizen a member of the greatest of earthly empires—the Philippian Christian was more than this, he was a citizen of heaven, and a subject of “the only Potentate, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see, to whom be honour and power everlasting.”
The term used by Paul has nothing to do with what we in the present day commonly mean by conversation (the word used in the Authorized Version), that is, talking. It means rather our life, that is, not the way of life in which we choose to live, but the state of life for which God made us, to which we belong, whether we choose it or not. More plainly still, it is the country or nation or city of which we are members and citizens, in which we are natives. It is that city of Jerusalem above, of which St. Paul writes to the Galatians, which is the mother of us all, the city of God. We belong to a great commonwealth, and that commonwealth is in heaven. Not we shall belong, but we do now belong to the heavenly commonwealth. This is not some slight or accidental honour added to our life. It is the very frame and truth of our life itself. We belong to it first and foremost, not by an afterthought. Heaven comes first, not earth. We are first citizens of heaven, and last citizens of heaven, and citizens of heaven all the while between: earth comes in only by the way; it has no deep and lasting rights over us.1 [Note: F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons, 2nd Ser., 151.]
Not only have the words, “Our conversation is in heaven,” lost for thousands of readers their original English meaning, but they had never conveyed the real point of St. Paul’s phrase with its quite definite reference to a political Citizenship or Commonwealth or Empire. A Roman citizen, proud—we see it again and again in the story of his life—proud of his privilege, is in custody at Rome waiting his trial by the Emperor. The whole conditions of that trial turned upon his citizenship, and he is writing to men and women in an enrolled Roman Colony—Philippi—who were hardly less proud than he of their Roman citizenship, their fellowship in the Imperial capital of the world.
What he says is, Some Christians, even in these testing days, have been lowering the Christian ideal. They are easy-going or even sensual and self-indulgent. That ought, for us, members of Christ’s Commonwealth, citizens of His Kingdom, to be impossible. For we have learned better, our link of fellowship is an ennobling thing; it uplifts, it steadies us. “Our citizenship is in heaven.”1 [Note: Archbishop Davidson, The Christian Opportunity, 41.]
The City to which we Belong
1. We belong to a city or state, which is out of sight. St. John, in the last great prophecy given through him to the Church, saw that city, builded four-square, perfect every way, on twelve foundations, having in them the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. It was built at unity with itself, perfect in structure and in symmetry, its length as great as its breadth; its walls of all manner of precious stones, and its streets of pure gold, clear as glass: a wonderful vision, full of mystery, and of meaning partly revealed, partly hidden, and by hiding made even more glorious and majestic. It sets before us the unity, multitude, perfection, glory, and bliss, of Christ’s saints gathered under Him in the Kingdom of God. Of this city and company, the whole Church on earth, and, in it, the Christians in Philippi, were citizens and partakers. St. Paul tells them this, to remind them that they were no longer isolated one from another, but incorporated into one body. Sin, as it rends man from God, so it rends man from man. It is the antagonist of all unity—a power of dissolution and of isolation. But the grace of Christ, by its first gift, binds again the soul of man with God, and the spirits of all the regenerate in one fellowship. We are taken out of a dead world, to be grafted into the living Church. Therefore St. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus, that they were “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” They were thereby made subjects and servants of the King of saints, the Lord of the holy city. It became their own inheritance. Its courts were their resting-places, pledged to them and sure. Their names were written among those who should walk in the light of God and of the Lamb.
An American agent or ambassador has a temporary dwelling in Athens. Living on that foreign soil, occupied daily, for the time, with its local affairs, respectful to its institutions, a good neighbour, he never forgets his allegiance to a distant republic. The landscape about him may show a beauty that wins his admiration; the Greek faces and manners and hospitalities may gain his good-will; yet they are not those of his native land. He remembers that his stay is short; sometimes he is homesick; he expects to be called back, not long hence, where his treasure is laid up and his untravelled heart abides; he is a stranger and sojourner, away from home. This simple comparison answers the better because it shows that when our faith commands us to have our conversation in heaven it does not require us to be bad citizens of the world where we now are. We are not bidden to be absent-minded; if we were we should do poor work here, and lead ineffectual lives. The man may form hearty attachments where he tarries; he may pay willing tribute to the city that temporarily befriends him; he may live cheerfully and helpfully, neither a complaining guest nor a fastidious and sullen recluse. And yet, none the less, as the Epistle to the Hebrews so grandly says of the patriarch who is the type of the Christian believer, he desires always a better country, which he knows—a “city” first in his honour, dearer to his love, and always in his hopes. So Christ, by His doctrine and spirit, reconciles a regular and happy labour among the fields and streets and markets of this world with a constant recollection that we have an eternal citizenship above it.1 [Note: F. D. Huntingdon, Christ in the Christian Year, 243.]
Are we not strangers here? Is it not strange that we so often meet and part without a word of our home, or the way to it, or our advance toward it?2 [Note: Archbishop Leighton.]
2. Citizenship implies honour and privilege. Both in Rome and in its colonies the privileges of citizenship were great, and greatly prized. Rome was the centre and mistress of the civilized world. The Roman citizen was not only safe wherever he went, but honoured and admired. He held himself to be the equal of tributary princes and kings, if not their superior. He was eligible for the highest offices of the State. He had a voice in the election of the ministers and rulers of the Commonwealth, even up to the godlike Imperator himself. He was exempted from many burdens, taxes, benevolences, exactions, imposed on the subject races. He could neither be scourged uncondemned nor examined by torture. Even if found guilty of the foulest crime, he could no more be crucified than an Englishman could be impaled; while, if he were cast in any civil suit, he had a right of appeal to Cæsar. If he were a man of any energy and intelligence, he had boundless opportunities of acquiring wealth; if he were poor and indolent, bread and games were provided for him at the public expense, baths were built for him, and theatres; the public gardens and walks were open to him; he might enrol himself among the clients, and so secure the protection, of some wealthy and powerful noble; he could take his share in the imperial doles and largesses, which were of constant recurrence. All this he might do and claim, not as a favour, but as a right, simply because he was a citizen.
What St. Paul virtually says to the Christian citizens of Philippi is: “You possess, and are proud to possess, the citizenship of Rome; but, remember, you have a still higher and nobler citizenship. Heaven is your true home, the Kingdom of Heaven your true commonwealth, the spirit of heaven your true spirit. You are members of that great spiritual and eternal Kingdom of which Christ is Imperator and Lord. And this citizenship confers on you both rights and duties—rights of access and appeal to the heavenly King, exemption not from base punishments alone, but also from base and degrading lusts. You are guarded from the malice and violence of the principalities and powers of evil and of an evil world. You are fed and cherished by the bounty and grace of the King eternal, immortal, invisible. You owe Him allegiance therefore, and a constant heartfelt service. Take pride in Him, then, and in the ties that bind you to Him. Fight for your privileges and immunities; play the man; prove yourselves good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Assert and maintain your spiritual freedom. Subordinate your private interests to the public welfare. Labour to extend the borders of the Divine Kingdom. Let this heavenly citizenship be more and dearer to you than the civic rights and exemptions in which you are wont to boast.”
On a cold, windy day in November, a gentleman spoke kindly to a poor Italian whom he had often passed without a word. Seeing him shiver, he said something about the dreadful English climate, which to a son of the sunny south must have seemed terribly cruel that day. But to his surprise the man looked up with a smile, and in his broken English said, “Yes, yes, pritty cold; but by-and-by! tink of dat.” He was thinking of warm skies and flowers and songs in the sunny land to which he hoped soon to return, and he little imagined how all that day and for many a day his words would ring in the Englishman’s heart: “By-and-by, tink of dat.”1 [Note: Alfred Rowland.]
3. There were three ways by which a person obtained “citizenship.” The first was by birth. If a person was born in a city, he was free to the rights and privileges which belonged to that city. He was “a citizen.” Thus St. Paul said, “I was free born.” And every Christian has had two births, a natural and also a spiritual birth. The second mode of becoming a “citizen” was by gift. It was a privilege, in the power of a State, then as it is now, to confer, and was sometimes conferred, in honour or in love. And thirdly it could be bought. As we read: “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, Art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.” By all these three privileges every Christian has got his freedom, or “citizenship.” He is “born again” of water and of the Spirit. It has been purchased for him at no less a price than the blood of the Son of God. And it is bestowed upon him by the will and bounty of the King of kings.
In Switzerland and Germany people have what they call a Heimatschein—a certificate of home. This is necessary as a passport; without it they cannot leave their country, and would be liable at any moment to be imprisoned because unable to prove themselves members of a canton. A peasant girl was one day watching the bears at Berne, and let slip out of her hands a bag containing some homely treasures. The bag fell into the bears den, and one by one they pulled out the articles contained in it and destroyed them. The girl wept for a while, and then put her hand into her bosom and drew out thence her certificate of home, exclaiming with joy, “Thank God! the bears have not got this.” In the sealing of God’s Spirit we have the certificate of our heavenly home, and no one can take it from us—the freedom of heaven is ours for ever.1 [Note: A. C. Price, Fifty Sermons, xi. 270.]
4. Heavenly citizenship is a present possession and confers lasting benefit. The heaven of which St. Paul speaks must indeed belong most truly to the far distant future; if it did not, what would be the meaning of the hopes of a better world which lie so deep in all our hearts? But it must be a heaven which is not only above us, but with us now, all our lives through; and it must be a heaven which can have no charm for those who are besotted with the things of eye and palate and touch. And, if so, God Himself, and nothing lower than God, must be the very heart and life of the true heaven, St. Paul’s heaven. We could not more truly describe it than by saying that it is the presence of God. Where He is, there is heaven: and where He is not, there is hell. Our common thoughts of heaven are not too high or too happy; on the contrary they are too poor and mean. “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
The only proof of a future heaven is the present heaven constituted by the indwelling of Christ in a man’s own soul. The citizen of heaven carries his credentials with him. His passport is God’s writing upon his heart. The assurance that heaven shall be ours is not to be found in an other-worldliness which ignores the present, but in the effort to make the heaven within shed its light abroad and so transform the earth into its likeness.2 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 172.]
“If thou art a believer,” said John Eliot, the apostle of the Indians in the seventeenth century, “thou art no stranger to heaven while thou livest; and when thou diest, heaven will be no strange place to thee; no, thou hast been there a thousand times before.” “The soul of man,” wrote Sir Thomas Browne, “may be in heaven anywhere, even within the limits of his own proper body; and when it ceaseth to live in the body, it may remain in its own soul, that is its Creator.” “Thy joys of heaven will begin,” wrote Theodore Parker, “as soon as we attain the character of heaven, and do its duties; that may begin to-day; it is everlasting life to know God, to have His Spirit dwelling in you, yourself at one with Him.”1 [Note: W. Sinclair.]
5. We must live as becomes citizens of heaven. The secret of a heavenly life on earth is to do the common everyday works of ordinary men, but to do them in an uncommon spirit, to do them in a spirit of intense and continual devotion to God; whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, to do all to the glory of God. Parents are to teach their children that they may be fitted to do what God shall call them to. Masters are to rule their households as if they were looking after souls put into their charge by God. Servants are to do their work heartily, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as unto the Lord. Men of business, merchants, tradesmen are to set themselves to gather wealth, that they may have more to spend for God. Kings and those in authority are to govern so as to encourage peace, order, and religion. Every power of body and mind, every advantage we possess, our rank and place, our name and station, our influence over others, the charm of winning manners, skill in any art (be it music, or painting, or any other), the gift of noble birth, or situations of authority, all these are to be rendered unto God, used earnestly, honestly, sincerely, in making Him more known, loved, and obeyed.
Dante, in his “Divine Comedy,” caught the substance of the truth when he made the angels who in heaven are nearest to God to be engaged at the same time in lowly ministration to the needy on earth. Dante only interpreted Jesus’ words: “See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” To be a citizen of heaven, therefore, implies active service to every good cause, the betterment of all social conditions, the sending of the gospel to the heathen nations, the effort to bring to the knowledge of the truth our families, our communities, and all mankind. To be a citizen of heaven is, like Christ, to realize heaven in our own souls, and then to establish it outside of us by going about and doing good.2 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 170.]
(1) We should cheerfully obey the laws of heaven. According to the Apostle, the standard of our living, and its sanctions, and its way of thinking and proceeding, and, in a word, our city, with its interests and its objects, being in heaven, the earnest business of our life is there. We have to do with earth constantly and in ways most various; but, as Christians, our way of having to do with the earth itself is heavenly, and is to be conversant with heaven. What we mainly love and seek is in heaven; what we listen most to hear is the voice that comes from heaven; what we most earnestly speak is the voice we send to heaven; what lies next our heart is the treasure and the hope which are secure in heaven; what we are most intent upon is what we lay up in heaven, and how we are getting ready for heaven; there is One in heaven whom we love above all others; we are children of the kingdom of heaven; it is our country and our home; and something in us refuses to settle on those things here that reject the stamp of heaven.
The great states of old had their strongly-defined popular characteristics. Athens was learned. Sparta was brave. Corinth was luxurious. What is to be the strongly-marked feature of those who belong to the Christian commonwealth? Why, expressed in one word, it is holiness. “As he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy, in all manner of conversation.” Priests in His temple, our robes should be clean. Soldiers in His service, our arms should be bright. Saints in His earthly courts, we should bring no spots to our feasts of charity. Having hope of admission to the city of the living God, we should purify ourselves even as He is pure. And thus God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven.
(2) We should carry the atmosphere of heaven wherever we go.
We read that in certain climates of the world the gales that spring from the land carry a refreshing smell far out to sea, and tell the watchful pilot that he is approaching some desirable and fruitful coast for which he has been waiting, when as yet he cannot discern it with his eyes. Just in the same way it fares with those who have steadily and loyally followed the course which God has pointed out to them. We sometimes find that they are filled with peace, hope, and happiness, which, like those refreshing breezes and reviving odours to the seaman, are breathed forth from Paradise upon their souls, and give them to understand with certainty that God is bringing them into their desired haven.
I remember Mr. Gladstone, some fifteen or twenty years ago, giving commendation to a little instrument then devised for the enrichment of the vocal organs. It was a form of inhaler, and by some happy combination of elements it was supposed to enswathe the vocal chords with the fine, enriching air of Italy. It is possible for our mind and soul to do their work in the sweet, clear air of heaven. We can be breathing mountain air even while we are trudging through the valley. And this air, after all, is our native air; when we are away from this we are in circumstances that poison, and vitiate, and destroy. But we can exercise the privileges of a higher citizenship, and we can “draw in breath in the fear of the Lord.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Feb. 28, 1907.]
(3) If heaven is our true home, we shall find our delight in learning more about it. Our hearts will be centred there.
Some years ago a traveller who had recently returned from Jerusalem, was in the society of Humboldt, and was greatly astonished to find that the old philosopher knew as much about the streets and houses in Jerusalem as he did himself. He asked Humboldt how long it was since he had visited Jerusalem, and received this reply: “I have never been there, but I expected to go sixty years since, and I prepared myself.” Should not the heaven to which we expect to go be just as familiar to us, so far at least as what the Bible has told us of it is concerned?2 [Note: A. C. Price, Fifty Sermons, xi. 271.]
The progressive apprehension of the Divine idea must be closely connected with the hope of its fuller manifestation, and to one who is full of sympathy with his fellow-men, the most welcome manifestation would be in the political life of mankind.… In the days when, not in fancy but in sober seriousness, Vane built his splendid political theories, and Cromwell seemed about to embody them in act, when even the common people saw the dominion of the saints at hand, Milton might well “see in his mind’s eye a noble and puissant nation rousing itself, like a strong man after sleep,” and even rise in thought from the perfection of earthly politics to the city of the heavenly host. But it is hard for men who are versed in political theories which have all been found wanting, and whose eyes are dimmed with the dust that rises from the hubbub of modern life, to see the history of mankind “orbing itself to a perfect end.”3 [Note: Thomas Hill Green, 31.]
The King whose Coming we Await
1. The spiritual commonwealth must have a head; the city must have a King. Now Jesus Christ sits in the place of power: He holds the reins of government. And we look to Him to come, according to His promise, to remove present disabilities and bring us into the full enjoyment of our privileges. “From whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The expectation of the coming of Christ out of the world of supreme truth and purity, where God is known and served aright, to fulfil all His promises,—this is the Church’s and the believer’s great hope. It is set before us in the New Testament as a motive to every duty, as giving weight to every warning, as determining the attitude and character of all Christian life. In particular, we cannot deal aright with any of the earthly things committed to us, unless we deal with them in the light of Christ’s expected coming. This expectation is to enter into the heart of every believer, and no one is warranted to overlook or make light of it. His coming, His appearing, the revelation of Him, the revelation of His glory, the coming of His day, and so forth, are pressed on us continually. In a true waiting for the day of Christ is gathered up the right regard to what He did and bore when He came first, and also a right regard to Him as He is now the pledge and the sustainer of our soul’s life: the one and the other are to pass onward to the hope of His appearing.
Whenever you are met by those enigmas of life which perplex many of our deepest thinkers in these days, remember “the Promise of His Coming”! “Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” “Be ye therefore patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness.” Say unto God, “O how wonderful art Thou in Thy works! How wonderful it will be to see this enigma solved—this perplexing aspect of Thy dealings made plain—this mystery of iniquity explained! How glorious will it be to see order and law, instead of a lawless world; angels and archangels, principalities and powers, in a wonderful order; loving to obey, or ruling with temperate and loving discipline!”
“O the majesty of law!” was the thought of the great theologian Hooker, when he was dying. When those around him asked him what he was looking forward to, he said: “I look forward to seeing law and order reigning everywhere, in the new Kingdom of God.” When iniquity seems to abound, and the Church is divided, and heresies are increasing, then look up and say: “O my Lord, I know that Thou art coming; for Thou didst foretell this. Thou didst say that when Thy Advent should be drawing near, the faith of Thy Church would hardly exist; that the love of many would wax cold. Thou hast told me that evil will never be crushed, until the Day dawn, and, instead of the withering blight of the dark shadow of Death, there shall be seen the light and the glory of Thy Advent Kingdom. O come then, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” And when you cannot think or feel or pray, or realize anything, or care about anything, at least be true. Do not say words to God that you do not mean. Be silent, but kneel down and worship; or simply say: “O God, help me to say, Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”1 [Note: Bishop G. H. Wilkinson, For Quiet Moments, 10.]
2. This brings us face to face with the great motive of a true Christian life—devotion to a person, the person of Him who is our Redeemer and our King. This is the great secret of loyalty to the city of God. It is not loyalty to an idea however lofty, to a system however beneficent, to a society however Divine, for the loyal Christian is the man who loves the city because he loves its Lord, and who seeks the good of the city because he believes that thus, and thus alone, can he
Fulfil the boundless purpose of our King.
You remember the old story of the Scottish knight, with the king’s heart in a golden casket, who, beset by crowds of dusky, turbaned unbelievers, slung the precious casket into the serried ranks of the enemy, and with the shout, “Lead on, brave heart; I follow thee!” cast himself into the thickest of the fight, and lost his life that he might save it. And so, if we have Christ before us, we shall count no path too perilous that leads us to Him, but rather, hearing Him say, “If any man serve me, let him follow me,” we shall walk in His footsteps and fight the good fight, sustained by His example.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
It seems to me as if, were I a layman in the days when some doctrine had got loose, as it were, into the wind and was being blown across the common and up and down the streets, I should go to church on Sunday, not wanting my minister to give me an oracular answer to all the questions which had been stated about it, but hoping that out of his sermon I might refresh my knowledge of Christ, get Him, His nature, His work, and His desire for me once more clear before me, and go out more ready to see this disputed truth of the moment in His light and as an utterance of Him.… Preaching Christ? That old phrase, which has been so often the very watchword of cant, how it still declares the true nature of Christian teaching! Not Christianity, but Christ! Not a doctrine but a Person! Christianity only for Christ! The doctrine only for the Person.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, 126.]
3. The King can accomplish through the organized commonwealth more than he could accomplish by separate individuals. There are scientific museums where you may see a jar of water, another filled with charcoal, a bottle of lime, another with phosphorus and so forth. These, you are told, are the constituents of a human body. These are the materials out of which a body is made up. But in which of them do we find the properties of flesh and blood, to say nothing of the wonderful gifts, the marvellous endowments, of those bodies which God has given us. In a similar way a community of Christian men and women, knowing what is good, believing what is true, living pure lives, and breathing the spirit of heaven, would be not merely an aggregation of Christian people, but a Christian city distinctly different in its corporate life and corporate action from a city composed of equally able citizens who know nothing about Christ. They would be able to spread enlightenment, and to promote peace and happiness which would make their city a foretaste of that which shall never pass away. Noble deeds have been done when a thought or an emotion has taken possession of a community. What might we not hope for from a single city filled with Divine enthusiasm and moved by the spirit of God.
The poet Cowper saw in the rapid growth of England’s power, even in his day, the earnest of a world-wide rule far eclipsing that of Rome. You remember how he pictures “the British warrior-queen,” who has suffered direct indignity at the hands of the Roman conquerors, consulting “the Druid, hoary chief,” as to her country’s wrongs, and listening to the “burning words” in which he portrayed, not only the destined fall of Rome, but also the future glory of her own land. Cowper was a patriot as well as a poet, jealous of England’s liberties, conscious of England’s destiny, anxious for England’s good, and in “Boadicea” he claims that all who bear the name of Briton are inheritors of a more than Roman empire, and (let us not forget) of a more than Roman responsibility.2 [Note: T. W. Drury, The Prison-Ministry of St. Paul, 44.]
4. Yet Christ reaches and moves society through the individual. The Saviour did not publish a plan of political reform, or a schedule of social science. Meeting His countrymen in little groups, or one by one, as they came, He showed them what was in His heart, and showed them the ineffable beauty of a holy and blessed “conversation” with His Father, while they were yet fishermen and publicans, and reapers and water-carriers, about their houses and fields. So began the everlasting empire and the everlasting age of righteousness through love, which was in time to lift itself over the palaces at Constantinople and Rome. Before men knew it, He had planted a kingdom to fill and possess the earth—planted it just where alone it could be planted, in the living heart and will of certain individuals who had ceased minding earthly things, or minded heavenly things far more. And so, precisely, He meets us to-day. With all His spirit of sacrifice and mighty power of redemption, with the cross on His shoulders and the scar in His side, He comes to each one of us, and speaks.
Individuals, feeling strongly, while on the one hand they are incidentally faulty in mode or language, are still peculiarly effective. No great work was done by a system; whereas systems rise out of individual exertions. Luther was an individual. The very faults of an individual excite attention; he loses, but his cause (if good and he powerful-minded) gains. This is the way of things: we promote truth by a self-sacrifice.1 [Note: Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 111.]
Christianity has done more to produce individuality, and the development of personality, than any other force that has appeared in the world. It has accomplished what paganism had never succeeded in doing. “Even when we reach the climax of ancient civilization, in Greece and Rome, there is no adequate sense, either in theory or practice, of human personality as such.” That is the dictum of Dr. Illingworth—no mean authority on the subject. He does not scruple to affirm that “the advent of Christianity created a new epoch both in the development and recognition of human personality.” This, he asserts, is “a point of history which admits of no denial.” And if any would inquire how it was brought about that this new sense of the worth of living, this quickened appreciation of the value of every individual with all that is involved of interest in life and its conditions, took possession of Christians, as it undoubtedly did, the answer that has to be given is wonderful enough. “As dying, and behold, we live.”
“I live, yet not I.” It was the result, not of conscious self-culture, but of deliberate self-sacrifice. The less they considered self, the more freely they spent themselves in the service of their Master and His cause, the more fully and vividly they became aware of an inward transformation, of a deepened and heightened consciousness of enlarged sympathy and increased power; they were already entering into life.1 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 139.]
The Change that will come over our Body
1. When Christ comes He will transfigure our bodies. St. Paul might have dwelt on many great blessings the full meaning of which will be unfolded when Christ comes; for He is to conform all things to Himself. But St. Paul prefers to signalize what shall befall our bodies; for that makes us feel that not one element in our state shall fail to be subjected to the victorious energy of Christ. Our bodies are, in our present state, conspicuously refractory to the influences of the higher kingdom. Regeneration makes no improvement on them. In our body we carry about with us what seems to mock the idea of an ethereal and ideal life. And when we die, the corruption of the grave speaks of anything but hope. Here, then, in this very point the salvation of Christ shall complete its triumph, saving us all over and all through. He “shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”
The doctrine of the resurrection corresponds to the mysterious duality of human nature. The body is, after all, the home of the soul, endeared, even like the actual home, by the very sorrows that have been endured within it; and we can conceive of nothing entered upon in separation from it that is worthy to be called life. It has not entered into our hearts to conceive what God shall fashion for them that love Him. It is enough that when that which is perfect is come, that which was in part shall be done away. As we have borne the image of the earthy we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. All our purified powers and faculties will harmonize with their transfigured expression. By the influx of Christ’s endless life, the soul shall be endued with a symbol and instrument conformed to the glory of its Redeemer. Yet even then, looking back in remembrance, each saint will confess: “It was good for me that I was humiliated.”
The meaning that St. Paul has in his mind, and expresses in the language of the Greek, is this—Christ shall change the temporary fashion of the body of our humiliation into the abiding form of His glory. There are two conceptions of the body. The body of humiliation wears only a temporary fashion, whereas the body of glory wears an abiding form; and the work of the Lord Jesus is to stamp upon the body of our low estate, which only for a time bears the marks of its low estate, the abiding, the eternal form of the body of His glory. That is the Christian view of the body. How profound it is, and how continually it has been overlooked. The mere fact that our translators originally used that form “our vile body,” is in itself a proof of the way in which the true view of the body had been overlooked, and was overlooked for so many ages. In the earliest times when men began to think, they were conscious of the difficulties that arose owing to the limitations which their bodily weakness imposed upon them. As soon as human thought turned into a moral system at all, men were divided into two classes of thinkers embodied in the old systems of the Epicureans and the Stoics—those who allowed their body to master them, and those who determined to master their body. The latter school attempted to accomplish their object by despising and condemning the body as something low and essentially degraded. That idea lived long; and that idea was in the minds of our translators when they shortened St. Paul’s language and used the form of “our vile body” as being the obvious antithesis to “his glorious body.” In so doing they omitted, they had not before them, the true Christian conception of the body and its place.1 [Note: Bishop Mandell Creighton.]
It must have required some courage, in a time when more and more the stern Roman spirit was being affected by Greek modes of thought, to hint at humiliation in connexion with the human body. Look at that Apollo, with his exquisite limbs and perfect features, unruffled with care, untouched by pain, transplanted, as it were, from another world, and by absolute right taking up the soil of anything lesser, crushing out anything less developed, drawing in all pleasures of sensuality and voluptuousness of life into the fuller development of perfect symmetry! Look at the builders of the Parthenon, and then talk of a body of humiliation! Look at the athletes in their games, with those splendid muscles and splendid limbs! Look at the Epicureans, in the full flight of unbridled satisfaction! What place is there here for humiliation?1 [Note: Canon Newbolt.]
(1) The needs of the body impose certain limitations on the soul.—Improve the social order as we may, this world will remain a hard, stern place, a valley of humiliation for most of its inhabitants. We submit to our daily drudgery as a matter of course. We have no alternative. We have been drilled into it by the patient toil of a hundred generations. We even learn to say, “Blessed be drudgery.” But sometimes, as we consider God’s lilies which toil not neither spin, and His birds which have neither storehouse nor barn, the thought dawns upon us that to eat bread in the sweat of the brow is not the permanent destiny of sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.
(2) The infirmities and pains of the body form part of our humiliation.—We can trace little direct connexion between a man’s misdeeds and his sicknesses and sufferings. Disease and decay come upon the holiest saints, as surely as they visit the worst sinners. No optimist “gospel of healthy-mindedness” can ever persuade us that we are not part of a groaning and travailing creation. We are made subject unto vanity against our will. And sooner or later the final humiliation lies in wait for us, one by one. As Pascal said: “The last act is always tragedy: On mourra seul”—“we shall die alone.”
(3) The body hides and isolates the spirit.—It hinders complete expression. The lover finds no words to utter his tenderness. The artist has no power to portray his haunting vision. The dull, plain-spoken man can never make himself properly understood, as he longs and strives to be. We gaze out wistfully through the windows of our isolation, we call and signal to each other across the severing spaces, but we cannot penetrate the barriers of personality to touch the real self who dwells captive there. Each of us must live his truest life in solitude, aloof and apart from his kind. And when we suffer the penalty of loneliness and fall into mutual misunderstanding or estrangement, when even Christians cannot be brought to realize the wrongs which they are inflicting on each other, this also is part of our humiliation.
In Little Dorrit the horror and curse of long confinement arrived when the debtor had grown naturalized and acclimatized in his prison, and felt proud to be called “the father of the Marshalsea.” These physical appetites and necessities of ours have, in themselves, nothing common or unclean. They possess no inherent evil. But in their quality and character they are of the earth, earthy. And man’s supreme instinct is that which makes him always a stranger and pilgrim upon earth, encamped here, but never properly domesticated, because his heart and his treasure are otherwhere. The romance of literature is filled with pictures of strange humiliation. The banished duke keeping court on the greensward in Arden, the foundling princess bred up under a shepherd’s roof in Bohemia, are like parables of the spirit of man in exile, waiting for the times of the restitution of all things when mortality shall be swallowed up of life.1 [Note: T. H. Darlow, Via Sacra, 35.]
2. The Apostle’s ultimate hope was the resurrection body, not a continuance in a condition of disembodiment; his desire was, not to be “unclothed,” but to be clothed upon. St. Paul speaks of our body of humiliation as an earthly house, earthly in its origin, earthly in its tendency, earthly in its destiny, but it is the house of a tabernacle. Like that which the Jews had during their years of wandering, it is not a permanent dwelling—it is to be “dissolved.” When life, that strange undefined principle which directs our material existence, is withdrawn, the body yields to chemical action and other forces, and those elements which compose our frames return to their native clay. But “Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul.” In the case of every human spirit God will give it a body suitable to its new surroundings. Perfect glory cannot be enjoyed by complex beings such as we are till we have bodies given to us in which perfect happiness can be realized; and the promise of our Lord is fulfilled, “I will come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
I remember once meeting a student of the Word who told me that one of his greatest ambitions concerning the world to come was to meet Isaiah and have communion with him! I could quite well understand it. The man had been spending weeks and months in the company of that great prophet, until Isaiah had become exalted in the student’s mind as a great and commanding hero. But Paul had the same intense desire concerning his Lord, and I think if we turned our thoughts upon the Lord with even a little of the Apostle’s intensity we should have the same great and inspiring expectation. They say that Samuel Rutherford used to fall asleep speaking of Christ, and that if during the hours of sleep his unconscious lips muttered anything it was found to be about his Lord. We need to practise ourselves in these things. The more we consort with the Lord, the more we “love His appearing” when He comes to us, as it were, incognito, the more we shall be fired with the consuming expectancy to see Him “as He is.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Feb. 28, 1907.]
(1) The resurrection of the dead is an individual promise.—It is a hope to us one by one; not like those grand promises which are made to the Church at large, in which we may, each of us, doubtless, have our share, but in which we seem to share only all together. The promise of the resurrection is to each single soul which feels and enjoys its own life, which looks forward with sadness to losing it, to which its own life is the most precious possession in the world. It tells each one of us that this precious life will not be lost; that in due time, to each possessor of it here, it will be restored again, and for ever. We look on one another; we look on each other’s faces, on the faces which we have known so long, which we love and delight in; and we know that each must die. We know that we who look at them, who are filled with love and pity and sadness while we look, must die either after them or before them. But as truly as each shall die, so truly shall each be made alive again. So has He said, who is the resurrection and the life. So it must be if He is true.
The longer I live, the more clearly I see how all souls are in His hand—the mean and the great. Fallen on the earth in their baseness, or fading as the mist of morning in their goodness;—still in the hand of the potter as the clay, and in the temple of their master as the cloud. It was not the mere bodily death that He conquered—that death had no sting. It was this spiritual death which He conquered, so that at last it should be swallowed up—mark the word—not in life, but in victory. As the dead body shall be raised to life, so also the defeated soul to victory, if only it has been fighting on its Master’s side, has made no covenant with death; nor itself bowed its forehead for his seal. Blind from the prison-house, maimed from the battle, or mad from the tombs, their souls shall surely yet sit, astonished, at His feet who giveth peace.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, v. 456).]
Hail, garden of confident hope!
Where sweet seeds are quickening in darkness and cold;
For how sweet and how young will they be
When they pierce thro’ the mould.
Balm, myrtle, and heliotrope
There watch and there wait out of sight for their Sun:
While the Sun, which they see not, doth see
Each and all one by one.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Songs for Strangers and Pilgrims.]
(2) The resurrection is a rising into a higher and more glorious life, to a life as far beyond this in glory as He Himself exceeds in the glory of His raised body all that is greatest and most beautiful on earth. It is not a mere coming back again to this life. This life has many charms and many delights; and if sin were not here men might well be content with such blessings as God has given us here. But it is not to the blessings and happiness of this life that that resurrection is to be. As far as the glory of heaven is greater than that of earth—as far as it is more blessed to be with God, and to know and feel His presence, than to have Him hidden from us behind a veil—so much greater is the blessedness and glory to which they who shall be accounted worthy of that world are to be raised.
I was once spending a few weeks in a small seaside parish in Durham, and while walking on the beach, which was sheltered by high and massive cliffs, I picked up a piece of coal. It was not rough and angular as it came from the mine, but round, and smooth, and polished; still coal, but oh how altered and how changed! I showed it to a friend and inquired into its probable recent history and learned that it must have fallen from some passing ship or perhaps it had dropped into the wide sea when some vessel was being laden or unladen. But whence the change? When apparently lost beneath the waves it had been rolled about in the bosom of the deep, wafted hither and thither by its stormy waters till at last it found a resting-place on the peaceful shore So it is with the people of God. The temptations and troubles of life are means in God’s hand for chipping off the angles and smoothing the rough edges which mar our characters, and thus by slow degrees we are fitted to fill our allotted places, and perhaps do our allotted work in the distant land of glory.1 [Note: W. G. Rainsford.]
3. The model after which we shall be fashioned is Christ’s glorious body. The body of our low estate, wearing a temporary fashion, is yet capable of receiving a permanent form which is made visible in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because in Him the universal law that applies to man’s life in every portion of it was made manifest, expressed in a Person—as, indeed, all truth that is to be vital, truth that is to be operative, truth that is to inspire, must necessarily be expressed. Examples do not move us; aphorisms do not touch us; we are taught by a Person, we are taught by character, and we are carried on by seeing truth expressed in a form in which it is vital, operative and active. The Lord Jesus Christ is the universal Lord of all that concerns man’s body, soul, spirit, life. The Lord Jesus Christ in His own Person covers the whole realm of human nature, penetrates into every part of its sphere. We know that the conception of self, of soul, or spirit, cannot be realized by us apart from the body in which it dwells. The body influences it, expresses it. We know one another only through our outward semblance and appearance. We cannot separate the particular elements of man which constitute him a soul; we cannot find where his spirit lives. Man’s human nature is one and indivisible; we cannot arrive at our spiritual self by a process of abstraction; we cannot take from a man so much and say, That is mere material, and therefore behind that material lies something else. We cannot raise man or man’s nature above the body and its limitations.
Our nature, as a whole, has been ennobled as well as invigorated by the Son of God. Bending from His throne of Heaven, in the immensity of His love, He has taken it upon Him in its integrity. He has taken body and soul alike, and joined it by an indissoluble union to His own eternal Person. That body which was born of Mary, which lived on this planet for thirty-three years, which was spat upon, which was buffeted, which was scourged, which was crucified, which underwent the stiffness and coldness of death, and was raised again in glory—that body exists somewhere still in space at the right hand of God the Father Almighty (so our poor human language struggles to speak out the tremendous truth), and thereby it confers on all who are partakers in human flesh and blood a patent of nobility of which our race can never be deprived. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.” Yes, He has ennobled us, and yet, while this life lasts, how great is the interval between our condition and His! How unlike is that body of glory which rose from the tomb on Easter morning to our body—unlike in its indescribable beauty, in its freedom of movement, in its inaccessibility to decay, in its spirituality of texture.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]
4. The power by which Christ shall subdue all things unto Himself, will be sufficient to change our mortal bodies. If we are in Him He will gather up what death has left; He will transfigure it with the splendour of a new life; He will change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory. Sown in corruption, it will be raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, it will be raised in glory; sown in the very extreme of physical weakness, it will be raised in a strictly superhuman power; sown a natural body, controlled on every side by physical law, it will be a true body still, but a body that belongs to the sphere of the spirit. Most difficult indeed it is even to the imagination to understand how this poor body, our companion for so many years—rather, indeed, part of our very selves—is to be first wrenched from us at death and then restored to us if we will, transfigured thus by the majestic glory of the Son of God.
There was a time when science rather mocked at the possibility of the resurrection. That is changed now, I think. At least I have heard the utterance of a great biologist who said, “If there is a resurrection, it must be a resurrection of the body. Body and spirit are so intimately connected that the one cannot be conceived as existing for ever in a perfect state without the other.”2 [Note: Bishop M. Creighton, The Mind of St. Peter, 107.]
The Catholic Faith proclaims “the Resurrection of the Body.” What does it mean? It means that for every child of man the hour is coming when the body—the frail and crumbling temple of the soul—shall pass from the home of corruption to conditions of an evident and sensible existence, endowed with movement, gifted with life; the form will be the same as in the days of the old life long ago. And if it be asked by what power this overwhelming miracle is wrought, the answer is, in apostolic phrase, by “the glory of God.” It was Christ who brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel; it was also Christ who clearly taught and evidenced the fact that the body shall rise again, whilst He also evidenced the truth in His own Divine Person that in very deed it must die. That death may be sad, may be tragic. It is. The heart sinks and withers beneath the thought that the form so dear to it, so expressive of the light and beautiful soul, should be, must be, the slave of corruption. But this, at least, is a consoling consequence. If the whole man has had to pay the penalty of sin, the body in its dissolution, the soul in its disembodiment, Reason herself demands, what Revelation asserts, that the whole man should share the victory—the body by a splendid reconstruction, the soul by restoration to its ancient home. God’s promise of man’s entire beatitude is a pledge that this article of the Christian creed is true. The Church does not trouble herself with any details about particles of matter, about its mysterious onward march in bodies she has nothing to say; but she does assert continuous identity, and she has on her side two important teachers: (1) the affections and yearnings of the human heart, and (2) which is more to the point—Divine Revelation.
(1) There is an infinity about pure human affection which points to another life. Here we have time enough given us just to have great hopes and strong loves, and then what seemed so stable has vanished like a morning dream. They vanish—they do not end. The practical instincts of pure affection and noble aspiration point imperiously to a better world. As well say that the evidence of the affections goes for nothing as that the robin’s song does not speak of autumn, or the coming swallow of the spring; as well say your strong desire for happiness with those you love, your deep longing for continued converse with souls blessed and beautiful, but gone, goes for nothing, as that discord in resolution does not delight you because it teaches of the coming mystery of harmonious union, or that the first faint shafts of the eastern colour do not herald the morning dawn.
(2) Better still, Revelation. “Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” And best of all, the Revelation—the quiet form of Good Friday night, the Risen Jesus on Easter Day! As certainly as sleep implies awaking, so—since Jesus was buried and rose again—the grave means resurrection from the dead, means, in fact, that here we work and there we wait, wait for the great awaking.1 [Note: Canon W. J. Knox Little.]
Dreary were this earth, if earth were all,
Though brighten’d oft by dear affection’s kiss;—
Who for the spangles wears the funeral pall?
But catch a gleam beyond it, and ’tis bliss.
Heavy and dull this frame of limbs and heart,
Whether slow creeping on cold earth, or borne
On lofty steed, or loftier prow, we dart
O’er wave or field; yet breezes laugh to scorn
Our puny speed, and birds, and clouds in heaven,
And fish, like living shafts that pierce the main,
And stars that shoot through freezing air at even—
Who but would follow, might he break his chain?
And thou shalt break it soon; the grovelling worm
Shall find his wings, and soar as fast and free
As his transfigured Lord with lightning form
And snowy vest—such grace He won for thee,
When from the grave He sprung at dawn of morn,
And led through boundless air thy conquering road,
Leaving a glorious track, where saints new-born
Might fearless follow to their blest abode.
But first, by many a stern and fiery blast
The world’s rude furnace must the blood refine,
And many a gale of keenest woe be pass’d,
Till every pulse beat true to airs divine.
Till every limb obey the mounting soul,
The mounting soul, the call by Jesus given.
He who the stormy heart can so control
The laggard body soon will waft to heaven.1 [Note: J. Keble, The Christian Year.]
Citizenship in Heaven
Bersier (E.), Twelve Sermons, 255.
Butler (H. M.), University and other Sermons, 1.
Church (R. W.), Cathedral and University Sermons, 115.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, 3rd Ser., 139.
Darlow (T. H.), Via Sacra, 29.
Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, 2nd Ser., 147.
Huntingdon (F. D.), Christ in the Christian Year, 243.
Jordan (T.), Christ the Life, 38.
Kay (J.), Paulus Christifer, 179.
Little (W. J. K.), The Perfect Life, 187.
Mackennal (A.), The Healing Touch, 246.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iii. 182.
Murphy (J. B. C.), Homely Words for Life’s Wayfarers, 133.
Paget (F. E.), The Living and the Dead, 223.
Plumptre (E. H.), Theology and Life, 130.
Pusey (E. B.), Sermons from Advent to Whitsuntide, 328.
Simpson (J. G.), The Spirit and the Bride, 249.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, viii. (1862), No. 476; xvii. (1871), No. 973.
Strong (A. H.), Miscellanies, ii. 159.
Wilberforce (B.), The Hope that is in Me, 80.
Cambridge Review, xi. Supplement No. 276 (Dickinson).
Christian World Pulpit, xl. 115 (Ingram); xlvi. 220 (Scott); lxviii. 86 (Crozier).
Church of England Pulpit, xlv. 245 (Eland); xlvi. 193 (Jordan); xlvii. 51 (Creighton).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Ascension Day, viii. 447 (Lawrence); Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, xiii. 288 (Grimley).
Expositor, 2nd Ser., iii. 303 (Cox); 3rd Ser., i. 361 (Evans).