2 Corinthians 5:1
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands…
I. SO MY TEXT MAINLY SETS BEFORE US VERY STRIKINGLY THE CHRISTIAN CERTITUDE AS TO THE FINAL FUTURE. The dear, broad distinction between me and my physical frame. There is no more connection, says Paul, between us and the organisation in which we at present dwell than there is between a man and the house that he inhabits. The foolish senses crown Death and call him Lord; but the Christian's certitude firmly draws the line, and declares that the man, the whole personality, is undisturbed by anything that befalls his residence; and that he may pass unimpaired from one to another, being in both the self-same person. Then, again, note, as part of the elements of this Christian certitude, the blessed thought that a body is part of the perfection of manhood. No mere dim, ghostly future, where consciousness somehow persists, without environment or tools to act upon an outer world. To dwell naked, as the apostle says in the context, is a thing from which .man shudderingly recoils, and it is not to be his final fate. And now, if we turn to the characteristics of the two conditions with which my text deals, we get some familiar yet great and strengthening thoughts. The "earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved," or, more correctly, retaining the metaphor of the house, is to be pulled down, and in its place there comes a building of God, "a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." The first outstanding difference which arises before the apostle is the contrast between the fragile dwelling-place, with its thin canvas, its bending poles, its certain removal some day, and the permanence of that which is not a "tent," but a "building," which is "eternal." Involved in that is the thought that all the limitations and weaknesses which are necessarily associated with the perishableness of the present abode are at an end for ever. No more fatigue, no more working beyond the measure of power, no more need for recuperation. And the other contrast is no less glorious and wonderful. "The earthly house of this tent" does not merely define the composition, but also the whole relations and capacities of that to which it refers. The '"tent" is "earthly," not merely because, to use a kindred metaphor, it is a "building of clay," but because, by all its capacities, it belongs to, corresponds with, and is fitted only for, this lower order of things, the seen and the perishable. And, on the other hand, the "mansion" is in "the heavens," even whilst the future tenant is a nomad in his tent. That is so, because the power which can create that future abode is "in the heavens." It is so in order to express the absolute security in which it is kept for those who shall one day enter upon it. And it is so, further, to express the order of things with which it brings its dwellers into contact. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption." Let no man say that such ideas of a possible future bodily frame are altogether inconsistent with all that we know of the)imitations and characteristics of what we call matter. "There is one flesh of beasts and another of birds," says Paul. Do you know so fully all the possibilities of creation as that you are warranted in asserting that such a thing as a body which is the fit organ of the spirit, and is incorruptible, like the heavens in which it dwells, is an impossibility? The teaching of my text and its context casts great light on what the resurrection of the dead means. We have heard grand platitudes about "the scattered dust being gathered from the four winds of heaven," and so on; but the teaching of my text is that resurrection does not mean the assuming again of the body that is left behind and done with, but the reinvestiture of the man with another body. It is a house "in the heavens." We leave "the tent"; we enter the "building." There is nothing here of some germ of immortality being somehow extricated from the ruins, and fostered into glorious growth. Or, to take another metaphor of the context, we strip off the garment and are naked, and then we are clothed with another garment and are not found naked. The resurrection of the dead is the clothing of the spirit with the house which is from heaven. And there is as much difference between the two habitations as there is between the grim, solid architecture of northern peoples, amidst snow and ice — needed to resist the blasts, and to keep the life within in an ungenial climate — and the light, graceful dwellings of those who walk in an atmosphere of perpetual sunshine in the tropics. Therefore let us, whilst we grope in the dark here, and live in a narrow hovel in a back street, look forward to the time when we shall dwell on the sunny heights in the great pavilion which God prepares for them that love Him.
II. And now note again HOW WE COME TO THIS CERTITUDE. My text is very significantly followed by a "for," which gives the reason of the knowledge in a very remarkable manner. "We know... for in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house, which is from heaven." Now that singular collocation of ideas may be set forth thus — whatever longing there is in a Christian, God-inspired soul, that longing is a prophecy of its own fulfilment. We know that there is a house, because of the yearning, which is deepest and strongest when we are nearest God. "Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart." Of course such longing, such aspiration and revulsion are no proofs of a fact except there be some fact which changes them from mere vague desires, and makes these solid certainties. And such a fact we have in that which is the only proof that the world has received, of the persistence of life through death, and the continuance of personal identity unchanged by the grave, and that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And let no man take exception to the apostle's word here, "we know," or tell us that "Knowledge is of the things we see." That is true and not true. It is true in regard of what arrogates to itself the name of science. If it is meant to assert that we are less sure of the love of God, of immortality than we are of the existence of this piece of wood, or that flame of gas; then I humbly venture to say that there is another region of facts than those which are appreciable by sense; that the evidence upon which we rest our certitude of immortal blessedness is quite as valid as anything that can be produced, in the nature of evidence, for the things around us.
III. Lastly, note WHAT THIS CERTITUDE DOES. The apostle tells us, by the "for" which lies at the beginning of my text, and makes it a reason for something that has preceded. And what has preceded is this, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." That is to say, such a joyous, calm certitude draws men's thoughts away from this shabby and transitory present, and fixes them on the solemn majesties of that eternal future. Yes! and nothing else will. And we shall not let our thoughts willingly go out thither unless our own personal well-being there is very sure to us. And such a certitude will also make a man willing to accept the else unwelcome necessity of leaving the tent, and for awhile doing without the mansion.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.