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The First Resurrection.
Having shewn, that all who are called to be saints” are to participate in the millennial kingdom and glory, the question will immediately arise in the minds of some,How is this to be accomplished in regard to those who are asleep in Jesus? A satisfactory answer may be drawn from 1 Cor. xv. St. Paul there argues that our faith is altogether vain, unless there be Resurrection; and having largely treated on this subject he concludes by assuring them, "that therefore their labour is not in vain in the Lord.”. I reply, therefore, that the departed saints are to be brought into the enjoyment of this blessed and glorious state by means of a resurrection, prior in order of time to the resurrection of the wicked, and distinguished in Scripture as the first resurrection;-not first (as some would imagine) by a priority of a few hours only, but by a period of at least a thousand years.
The former circumstance would in itself confer but little pre-eminence; since it would not matter, whether the saints were raised a few hours before, or even after, the wicked, provided they did but rise to the enjoyment of glory, honour, and immortality. Nor indeed would a precedence, which merely regarded the order of time, even to the extent of a thousand years, avail much: it is the circumstance, that all the promises of God for good (so far as they are at present revealed) are connected with this period, that gives to it such peculiar importance. To be privileged to enjoy this Millennium declares us to be “blessed and holy;'a whilst to be excluded from it, will mark us "as unjust and filthy still.” Within this period is concentrated that special glory which results to Christ as MAN-MEDIATOR: and he, therefore, who is not included in that heavenly company which shall descend at the archangel's shout, will not sbe with him, where he is, to behold that glory which God has given him."
It is true, that there are one or two passages in Scripture which might lead us to suppose, that the resurrection of the righteous and wicked take place together. I refer to that description in Matt. xxv. of the Son of Man on the throne of his glory, and all the nations gathered before him, which he separates into two classes; one of which goes away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. And secondly, to a passage in John v. “The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.” These are the only places I deem it needful to dwell upon: for though the notions of some are so unaccountably mystified on this subject, that I have met with many who interpret Christ's coming to judge the “quick and the dead," as if quick and dead meant righteous and wicked; yet it is so evident to all who only reflect for a moment, that it means those living when our Lord shall come, and those who have died in the mean while, that I need not consume time in refuting the mistake.
a Rev. xx. 6. b Rev. xxii. 11. c John xvii. 24.
I mean not now to enter into a particular exposition of the above two passages: I shall content myself with examining the principal point connected with the difficulty; viz. the apparent fixing of the two events, or the two actings connected with one great event, to the same point of time. In order to this I must bring before the notice of the reader a principle of interpretation, which we may gather from Heb. ii. and i Cor. xv.
In Heb. ii. St. Paul quotes Psalm viii. applying it to the reign of Christ; (“Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet;”) and he then argues: "For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him.” This appears very absolute; as if all, not even excepting God himself, were to be put under his authority. But in i Cor. xv. 27, where the same Psalm is applied, we have this qualification; “When he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that HE is excepted which did put all things under him.” From the Scriptures therefore we infer, that if at any time we meet with a text, which seems to contradict some other plainly revealed fact, “it is manifest” that we must qualify that text, according to the nature and necessity of the case; taking care that we reconcile one Scripture with another, and do not destroy one by another.
To illustrate this I must draw your attention to some prophecies of Scripture, about which there is little or no dispute, and which seem to refer to one event only, or to two events taking place at one period of time; but which we are compelled to admit, from other passages and from facts, refer to two distinct events, between which a considerable interval of time must necessarily elapse.
I will begin with the captivities of the Jews, which sometimes are so blended, that careless readers of God's word often suppose the prophecies which speak of them to refer only to the Babylonish captivity; and need to have pointed out to them those circumstances which prove, that the present dispersion of the Jews must be included or primarily intended.
The same may be said of the restoration from Babylon, when their city and temple were rebuilt under Zerubbabel; and of their final glory, when Jerusalem shall put on her beautiful garments;- distinct events, which are nevertheless so blended together, that it requires careful observation in order to point out the distinguishing marks.
Next I may instance the Advent of our Lord Jesus. Many texts might be brought forward, which seem to include his first and second coming as one event; and we know that the Jews, because they did not distinguish these, were led into error, and rejected our Lord when he came to suffer. I will instance one passage, (Job xix. 25,) connected with the resurrection; in which Job says—"I know that my Redeemer liveth and he shall stand in the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms shall destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes, shall behold and not another.” Many might suppose from this text, that the point of time when the Redeemer should stand on the earth the latter day'—was the period of the general resurrection, in which Job should have his lot: and it is only from other texts, and from the fact, we find, that two comings were to take place, with a long interval between, reconcileable with the phrase latter day. Were not indeed the principle for which I am contending to be received, a Jew might deny from this text the reality of any standing of the Redeemer upon earth prior to the time, when Job should be raised to behold him in the flesh.
The next important event which I shall notice is that prophecy of Joel, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, and beginning—“It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Let any man, unacquainted with the history of the apostolic times, look at this prophecy, and hit the joint if he can, which shall separate between the first and second outpouring of the Spirit: though we all seem to expect a further fulfilment of it, and allow that an interval must be interposed.
I shall only instance further the prophecies concerning Antichrist. The second advent of Jesus was thought by the Thessalonians, from Paul's occasional language, to be immediately at hand. And no wonder: for he speaks of himself and them, as if they were to survive till that event should happen -owe which are alive and remain." But he reminds them in another Epistle, that he had taught them, how that event should not take place, except there should come a falling away first, and the man of sin should be revealed: so that the time for Antichrist to grow up, seize the dominion, and reign, must of necessity come in before the glorious appearing of the Lord: which the Thessalonians certainly might have inferred, had they carefully considered other Scriptures, or remembered all that the Apostle had taught them.
Now I claim for the general doctrine of the Resurrection the exercise of this same principle of interpretation; and if I can show, that in many places the doctrine of a resurrection of the saints is revealed, altogether distinct from that of the wicked, we are bound to receive that doctrine in such manner as shall fall in with the general scope of Scripture.*
1. I begin with 1 Cor. xv. 22—26, which explicitly gives the order in which all shall rise. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive; but every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits;—afterwards, they that are Christ's, at his coming then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom, &c. and shall finally destroy the last enemy, death.” Here are three degrees in the order of the resurrection. (1) First we have sChrist the first fruits.” St. Paul tells Festus and Agrippa, that Moses and the Prophets had testified, “that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead:”e which was typified by the offering of the first-fruits of the harvest. And in this first-fruits may be included those saints, who came out of their graves after the resurrection of Christ, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many,t-a blessed earnest of their own future manifestation in the same place. (2) Secondly we have itafterwards they that are Christ's, at his coming:” or as I would paraphrase it,"Afterwards, at the coming of Christ, those that belong to him.” For some read this (or at least so interpret it) as if it were—“Afterwards those who, at the coming of Christ, shall be his; as if those only are intended, who shall at that time be walking in the faith of Christ. But forasmuch as
e Acts xxvi. 23. * It is worthy of remark, that most of those expositors, who, from the two places of Scripture now under consideration, insist on the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked as one in point of time, do nevertheless, in their interpretation of our Lord's prophecy in Matthew xxiv. generally contend for two judgments; (the one on Jerusalem, the other at the second advent;) though they confess them to be so involved the one in the other, that it is difficult to distinguish them. I differ entirely from such an interpretation of that chapter, as makes it an involved prophecy; but I mention it now merely to show the inconsistency of their objection, when urged against the millennarian doctrine of the Resurrection.
+ Another instance of negligent exposition, which I have more than once heard from the pulpit, is the making these saints come out of their graves at the crucifixion of our Lord: in which case Jesus would not be the first that rose from the dead to die no more. The Evangelist, though he mentions it in connexion with his narrative of the crucifixion, does nevertheless distinctly state, that they came out of their graves after his resurrection. Matt. xxvii. 52, 53.
these will be then already living in the flesh, the promise of a resurrection cannot have reference to them. They will undergo a change; and they will be privileged, like Enoch and Elijah, never to see death. All those must therefore be intended, who shall be asleep in Jesus, and whom, at his coming he will raise and bring with him. Let it be observed however, that there is no mention of the wicked dead; "those that are Christ's." (3) Next it follows,—“Then, (after that cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom;"-a plain proof that the kingdom is to be between his coming and this end.
2. I shall take a second testimony from 1 Thessalonians iv. 13—18; because there can be no doubt that this passage, like the former, is to be understood in a plain and literal sense. For as in the former instance, the Apostle expressly instructs them in the nature of the resurrection, to guard them against the error of those who denied it; so here he teaches them plainly concerning those who sleep in Jesus, that they may not sorrow as men without hope of seeing them again. To suppose that in either instance the language is symbolical, allegorical, or figurative, beyond what belongs to our ordinary use of figure, is to offend against the context and common sense of these passages.
The Apostle, then, assures those, who were disposed to sorrow without hope of seeing their believing friends again, that “the Lord Jesus will bring them with him when he comes;-For that the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise FIRST. Then we, which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in (the) clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Note how exactly this agrees with the former testimony in Corinthians:--the dead in Christ only are raised those living in Christ are changed-and at the last trump, announcing the coming of the Lord.* (See 1 Cor. xv. 22.)
* As the learned Dr. Wardlaw, in his recently published volume of sermons, attacks the millennarian view of ihis text, a few observations on his argument may not be unacceptable. I will first give his exposition verbatim. “The following expression, in 1 Thess. iv. 16, has been sometimes adduced in evidence of the resurrection of the righteous preceding that of the wicked:—and by many, indeed, who do not hold the tenets of millennarianism, it is often incon. siderately quoted as if it conveyed this meaning:-'For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST.'—But it requires only the reading of the passage to satisfy any candid mind, that there is in it no reference to the resurrection of the wicked at all. The preceding verse—the 15th, stands thus: 'For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep.'- In this verse, the word 'prevent' means to anticipate, to get the start, or take the precedence, of another. Of the statement thus given,