Baptist History Homepage

A sermon, preached, in the ordinary course of his ministry,
to his people, September 21st, 1845
by Rev. Robert Boyte C. Howell, D. D.
Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee.

"There shall be a resurrection of the dead." ACTS, xxiv: 15.

      A RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD! And shall there be a resurrection of the dead? There shall be the dead shall, one day, arise from their graves.

      The resurrection of the dead, is an event which never would have suggested itself to the mind of man, unenlightened from on high. All the appearances in nature are against its truth. It found a place, therefore, in none of the systems of Greek or Roman philosophy, nor in the theology of ancient paganism. It was reserved for the Bible the revelation to man of the designs, and will of God to announce to us the glorious assurance, that "there shall be a resurrection of the dead."

     The first aspect in which this subject presents itself to us, is, simply, as a question of fact.

      Assuming the Bible to be true, and this, I trust, no one in this assembly doubts, than the resurrection of the dead, nothing is more incontrovertibly certain. " This I confess unto thee," said Paul, in our context, while defending himself before Felix, against the accusations of the Jews "that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things that are written in the law, and in the prophets; and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Our Lord himself said: "The hour is coming, in the which

[p. 225]
all that are in their 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." (John, v: 28, 29.) "The dead," says an apostle, "shall be raised." (1 Corinthians xv: 52.) But why recite passages in proof of this fact? The resurrection of the dead is stated, and affirmed, and defended, in all parts of the word of God, and in a manner the plainest and most emphatic. It is impossible to believe the Bible, and not assent to the doctrine of the resurrection.

      Is the religion of Christ a reality? So, then, must be the resurrection. The former rests upon the truth of the latter. The apostolic argument on this proposition is obvious and conclusive. Addressing the Corinthians, he says: "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is not Christ risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ, whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." (1 Corinthians xv: 13 -17.) But the proof, to use inspired expressions, is " infallible" of Christ's resurrection. He was seen, after he arose, by all the apostles, and by many of them frequently and closely scrutinized; and he was seen by more than five hundred others, at one time, multitudes of whom were, when Paul wrote, living, and ready to testify to the fact before any tribunal. No rational man, therefore, dare doubt the resurrection of Christ. It is, also, equally certain that, as a consequence, all men shall arise. "For, as in Adam all die, even so in Christ, shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians xv: 22.) The wicked will come forth, alas! to an awful fate, but the righteous to eternal life. "For, if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so, them also that sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him." (1 Thessalonians iv: 14.) If, then, triumphantly we may exclaim:

"An angel's arm can't snatch us from the grave;
Legions of angels can't confine us there."

      It has been imagined, that the resurrection of the body is
[p. 226]
a doctrine taught only in the New Testament. Those who have entertained this opinion, have, surely, not examined the subject. We have only to look into the Bible, and we shall be convinced that the resurrection, as an article of faith, was held, by the patriarchs and prophets, with a confidence as unwavering, as it now is by Christians.

      Did not Paul say, as we have seen, that "the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust," was a doctrine "allowed " by the Jews to be true? Upon what testimony did they admit it? Look into the prophecy of Isaiah, and, as his vision reaches forward to the consequences of the resurrection of Christ, you will hear him beautifully exclaiming: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for thy dew is as the dew of herbs." (Isaiah xxvi: 19.) The promise of our Lord, by Hosea, is definite: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plague: O grave, I will be thy destruction." (Hosea, xiii: 14.) It is to this declaration that Paul refers, when he says: "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians xv: 54, 55.) Daniel, too, said to Israel: "Them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel xii: 2.) The Sadduces, who, in the days of our Lord, denied the resurrection, were, on that account, regarded as heretics;* and Martha, at the grave of her brother, said to the Redeemer: "I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day." (John, xi: 24.)

      Ancient saints had, as you must now see, from the texts we have presented, and, were it necessary, we could readily adduce many others, the amplest evidence of the resurrection of the dead. Surely no reasonable man can think otherwise, than that this has been an established article of the faith of all ages.

      We now see that, as a matter of fact, the resurrection of the dead is, beyond question, true. It is a most animating reality a glorious triumph! Paul contemplated it
* Matthew xxii: 23.

[p. 227]
until his full soul exclaimed: "Death is swallowed up in victory. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."

      Let us now, in the second place, consider the nature of the resurrection.

      It is a magnificent exhibition of the power of God. He alone, who created all things, is able to call forth our bodies, after a sleep of thousands of years, from their dusty beds. His omnipotence is pledged, and shall bring to pass this astounding result.

      But what sort of a body shall be the body of the resurrection? This is the great question. Will the same corporeal matter of which we are now composed, be raised from the grave, and form the body of the resurrection? In other words: will the resurrection be an actual physical resurrection of our present bodies? I answer the question, emphatically, in the affirmative. It will, in every proper sense. The accidents of the body such as age, and disease, its impurities, and corruptibility will be removed, and, thus changed, it will be a pure and glorious spiritual body; still, it may be accurately predicated, that the bodies we shall have in the resurrection, will be the same bodies in which we now "live, and move, and have our being."

      The correctness of this opinion is, however, warmly contested. It is alledged that, for several reasons, the bodies of the resurrection cannot be the same, in any correct sense, with those we now have. Let the reasons in question be briefly considered.

      It is confidently maintained, that the known facts in physiological science disprove our conclusion. Our present body, it is fully ascertained, is in a constant process of waste, and reparation, so that, in a few years, it entirely changes its substance. There is not a particle of matter in them now, of which they were composed seven years ago. Very well; this is all true; we admit it; and what then? Why, it is now triumphantly asked: What body is it, in the series, that is raised from the dead ? That which we now have: or that which we had twenty years ago, or some one possessed in the intermediate time? This argument may appear, at first view, to present an impassable barrier; but, when more closely examined, it

[p. 228]
will be found to offer, really, no difficulty whatever. Three brief statements will make this sufficiently apparent.

      1. It rests upon a refinement of reasoning which, when taken out of its proper sphere, is sophistical, inapplicable, and "darkens counsel, by words, without knowledge." What is there, in relation to which we may not, by such a process, involve ourselves in an inextricable labyrinth of mystery? What! the bodies of the resurrection not our present bodies! Then our bodies never arise. There is, therefore, after all, really no resurrection of the dead! Our text is not true; and we may take up the lamentation:

"Alas! the tender herbs, and flowery tribes,
Though crushed by winter's unrelenting hand,
Revive, and rise, when vernal seasons call:
But we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
Bloom, flourish, fade, and fall;
And then succeeds a long, dark, oblivious sleep,
A sleep, which no portentous power dispels,
Nor changing seasons, nor revolving years."

But no; our faith is not so readily shaken; it is inspiration which assures us, that "there shall be a resurrection of the dead."

      2. I remark, that the identity of our present bodies with the bodies of the resurrection, is not the same in a strict philosophical, that it is in a theological sense.* A thing may be theologically true, that is scientifically inaccurate. Do you doubt this? Ponder the proposition, and you will see that it must necessarily be so. It arises, inevitably, from the fact, that the language of the Bible is popular, not scientific, language. The word of God, for example, says: "The sun ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place whence he arose." (Ecclesiastes i: 5.) Now we have the means of demonstrating that this statement is philosophically inaccurate. The sun is really a fixed body, and never moves. Does any sensible man conclude, therefore, that the Bible is not true? By no means. The language is popular, such as is constantly employed, by all classes of people, learned and unlearned. It is theologically true; and sufficiently accurate for all the purposes of life. Apply these
* Vide Christian Review for Sept'r, 1845, art. 1.

[p. 229]
deductions to the subject before us. In the resurrection, I shall be conscious that I am the same man that I am now. I know that I am, this moment, notwithstanding physiological changes, the same man that I was twenty years ago; so shall I know, notwithstanding spiritual changes, that I am still the same man. This is identity enough to satisfy the desires of the most fastidious.

     3. I observe, lastly, that if this physiological argument proves any thing at all against the resuirection of our present bodies, it proves greatly too much, and, therefore, defeats itself.

      We are expressly taught, in the divine word, that "we must all be judged, in the last day, according to the deeds done in the body." But, I ask, according to the deeds done in what body? In the first, or the last, or what intermediate body, in this same physiological series? "The continuity of the vital operations [our learned objectors tell us,] has nothing to do with physiological identity;" and that "it cannot be affirmed, with scientific accuracy, that the body any man has now, is the same which he had ten years ago." You will, therefore, instantly see, that, upon this ground, it is as impossible that there can be any judgment, as that there can be any resurrection; for the plain reason, that it is impracticable to identify the body in which the deeds were done, for which we are to be judged! There is, therefore, no such thing as moral accountability! All religion is, of course, fabulous a mere dream of the fancy! If the objection be allowed as valid, all these absurdities irresitibly follow. You cannot repel them, nor turn them aside. But we are morally accountable, the arguments of "science, falsely so called," to the contrary notwithstanding. We must be "judged according to the deeds done in our [present] body." If so, these very bodies must be raised from the dead, and, in the full popular sense which attaches to all the teachings of the word of God, form the bodies of the resurrection.

      You are now, I trust, convinced that this physiological argument against the identity of our present bodies, with the bodies of the resurrection, is wholly baseless, because it is a hypercritical refinement of reasoning; because it takes for granted, in relation to scripture, that which is not true; and

[p. 230]
because it involves collateral absurdities fatal to the whole system of rational religion.

      But a second objection is offered, of a kindred character. It is assumed that our present bodies cannot be identical with the bodies of the resurrection, because, when men die they mingle with the earth, and the matter of their bodies is formed into vegetable life; these vegetables are eaten by animals, and the vegetables and the animals are eaten by men, and constitute parts of other bodies: thus, the body of one man goes to form the body of another man; and so the bodies of multitudes of men may consist of precisely the same matter! It is presumed, as a consequence, that, in the resurrection, there may be hundreds of souls all claiming the same matter the same bodies and that there will be those who, if not provided with other bodies than those they had here, will have no bodies! Therefore, it is concluded, that the identity which we contend for is physically impossible.

      All this apparently formidable array of argument, is but a mist, and is dissolved by a single touch of divine truth. Do you not see that it limits omnipotence? Besides, it is all built upon supposition, and stands like a mighty pyramid upon its point. Its suppositions, too, are all plainly at war with the providence of God, who watches over our bodies, as well as our souls, and will keep them both uninjured until that day. Our souls are immaterial, and, when separated from their present tenements, have no ligatures to bind their parts together. You might as well suppose that God's providence will permit them to be dispersed, and to commingle with each other, in such a manner that they never can be separated and be prepared for their respective bodies! Why not presume this of the souls, as well as of the bodies? It is just as reasonable.

      To our objectors we may say, as Christ did to the Sadducees, who proposed to him a similar difficulty: "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God." Is it a falsehood which you have just sung of Jehovah, or is it a glorious truth?

"God, the Redeemer lives,
And, ever from the skies,
Looks down, and watches all our dust,
Till he shall bid it rise."

[p. 231]
      Well, then, responds a third opposer: if the bodies of the resurrection are identically the same bodies that we now have, some of them will be in childhood, and some in hoary age; some in helpless infancy, and some in the vigor of years; some in disease, and others maimed, and others still, imperfect. No sir, no; pause, if you please. Infancy is not a part of the body; nor is age a part of the body ; nor is health, or disease, or any of the others, a part of the body. These are merely its circumstances, or accidents. The resurrection brings up the body; not the accidents in which it may have been temporarily placed. Paul anticipated the same objection. "How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?" His reply is to our purpose, entirely: "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence, also, we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself." (Philippians iii: 20, 21.) John also answers, in a manner equally satisfactory, the same question: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John, iii: 2.) Whatever, then, may have been our physical form, or condition here, in our change from a natural to a spiritual body, we shall assume, with eternal youth and health, the general appearance which characterizes the Redeemer himself.

      But "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." So saith the scriptures. We are now flesh and blood. How, then, it is objected, in the fourth place, can the bodies of the resurrection be identical with our present bodies?

      We have already stated, that a change occurs in the body to fit us for heaven; which, in inspired language, is described thus: "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." "It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." By a natural a mortal, or corruptible body, is meant the present animal body of "flesh and blood." In other words: a body governed by the laws of physical economy; composed of solids and fluids; in a constant process of change, and requiring to be repaired by nutrition; dependent for its preservation, upon the presence of that

[p. 232]

[Page 233 is missing in the document.]

[p. 234]
the time when this great event shall occur. It remains only that we make a practical APPLICATION of our subject.

      Beloved friends, and brethren: To what an amazing destiny are we all reserved! Every one of us will arise from the dead, and continue to exist, soul and body, forever! How should we be affected by this solemn fact?

      1. What should be its influence upon the wicked?
      You, too, dear friends, must "hear his voice and come forth." Will it be to "the resurrection of damnation?" This question you will yourselves decide, by your conduct in this world. If you continue in your sins, how, at the judgment seat of Christ, will you be able to bear the shame of your sins, and the contempt which they will bring upon you? He who is "the resurrection and the life," now offers to receive and pardon you. Will you now go to him? He will, and he alone can, deliver you from impending destruction.

      In view of this condition of our friends, does it appear, brethren and sisters, that we have no duty to perform in relation to them? Do not their future prospects alarm you, and call forth your sympathies? Many of those who are dearest to your hearts, are yet in sin. Trace in thought, their fearful future. See, they die, impenitent and unpardoned; they arise, all polluted, and criminal, and at the bar of God,

" unveil their aspect! On their brow
The thunder scars are graven; from their eyes
Glare forth the immortality of hell! "

     Up then, dear Christians, and seek to save them. O, plead their cause before your God; plead with them to turn and live; give them no rest until they are won until they repent, believe, and are made with you participants in the grace of Jesus Christ.

      2. To those of you who seek salvation, our subject, today, must present a theme singularly full of encouragement.

      You are laboring to gain a glorious resurrection, eternal life, and the companionship of happy saints and angels, in the skies. To sustain you, there are innumerable motives, all of boundless strength. The merits of the Redeemer are ample for you. You cannot fail in your purpose. Victory

[p. 235]
a glorious victory over death, hell, and the grave shall be yours. Trust in Christ, and fear not.

"Death shall never harm thee,
Shrink not from the blow,
For thy God shall arm thee
And victory bestow.
Then death shall bring
To thee no sting,
The grave no desolation
Tis sweet to die
With Jesus nigh,
The rock of our salvation."

      3. Upon the heart of the Christian, how excellent is the effect of the doctrine of the resurrection.

      It reconciles us to the loss of friends. Contrast our condition, in this respect, with that of those who are shrouded in the darkness of paganism. The affectionate parent, or friend, upon whose mind the word of God has never shone, carries to the tomb those, who, of all others, are dearest to him in this world say, for example, an only, and affectionate son, in the bloom of life. He gazes for the last time, with a bursting heart, upon those warm features, cold in death. The grave closes over him, and he is gone! No hope enters his agitated bosom, that he shall ever again behold that countenance, as he has so often seen it, glowing with life, and lighted up with the beams of love. With unutterable anguish he turns away, exclaiming Farewell, forever farewell, my dear boy, forever, FOREVER! With us, how changed is the scene! "Life and immortality are brought to light, by the Gospel." Our thoughts are irresistibly carried forward, from the grave, which swallows up all our earthly joys, to a day, not very distant, when our friends shall be fully restored to us. Then shall we be able to say:

"See, truth, love, and mercy, in triumph descending,
And nature all glowing in Eden's first bloom;
On the cold cheek of death, smiles and roses are blending,
And beauty, immortal, awakes from the tomb."

      Our farewell is but for a few days. As we look upon the grave, we can exclaim: Lightly rest the clay upon thy bosom,
[p. 236]
my son we shall meet again! Then death can no more reach us. We are beyond the boundaries of his dominions. We are safe forever safe.

      The doctrine of the resurrection enlarges our conceptions of the grace of God; regulates our affections for earthly things; and moderates the desires that might injure our spirituality. Why should this world engross our love, when the prospect is so near us of a better, and an eternal life?

      The resurrection reconciles us to death it does more it really makes death desirable. The putrescence of the tomb is robbed of its repulsiveness, by the recollection that it is a part of the process through which our bodies are sanctified and fitted for heaven. There is no path to glory, but through the grave. Nor shall our bodies be long detained in that dark valley. It is a short sojourn, and the iron dominion of the last enemy is broken. Come, then, death, we will not shrink; come the day of judgment, we will not fear; since it will awaken our pale slumbers, and bring us to heaven, where we will rejoin all those we have loved; and where we

"The sons of ignorance and night,
Shall stand in uncreated light,
Through the eternal love."

      Glorious consummation! "This corruptible shall put on incorruption,aud this mortal shall put on immortality. Then shall be brought to pass, the saying that is written Death is swallowed up of victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ."

[From The Baptist Preacher, Volume IV. August, 1845, No. 8, 225-236. Document from Google books. jrd]

Robert B. C. Howell Index
Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage